Thanksgiving is upon us again and this year I encourage you to consider it as more than just turkey and football. Family Systems Theory teaches us that family traditions are important. They help shape the values and the direction of the system, as well as reminding us of our roots. Willful participation is like renewing your membership to the group and recommitting to the values that the system stands for… at least ideally. We felt thankfulness was so important in fact, that our government institutionalized a day to be thankful.
I believe that we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving because we recognize its inherent importance in psychological health. Being thankful for our blessings, being thankful for the friends, the family and the support that we have to get through the daily grind and the tough times helps us keep perspective on life’s challenges. This process of perspective taking forces us to understand our position as middle of the road. It could be worse, it could be better. Effectively, it acts as a way to regulate our emotions.
To use a film metaphor, Thankfulness helps us understand that we, as an individual, are not life’s only main character. We can shift the lens for a moment and see that the efforts people make in our favor are sometimes not asked for, earned, or even deserved at times. They are another main character’s efforts to give to their community or support system.
We talk a lot about community, and Thankfulness perpetuates the positive attributes in a community. We know this through basic Behavioral Psychology. Reinforcement is a much better method of affecting behavioral change than punishment. When I am going through a rough patch and I tell a supportive friend that I really appreciate them being there for me, what will they most likely do in the future if I find myself there again? Well, if I have worked to reciprocate their support and I’m genuine in my appreciation, they are much more likely to be supportive again. In fact, through this process, our relationship has been enriched.
Neuropsychology can even be helpful in understanding how Thankfulness is important. It used to be thought that the brain was static and did not change past a certain point… “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Now we use the term, neuroplasticity, to understand that the brain strengthens and pares down neural connections on a regular basis. If we are spending our time with a Thankful mindset, then we are strengthening this positive thought process and sending the negative thoughts into disuse. When faced with which path to go down, the brain will slowly, but surely, take the more positive path on its own.
So this Thanksgiving, appreciate this built in opportunity to express your gratitude towards those who support you. Recommit to those ideal values and try to find opportunities to renew your membership. We all have a lot to be thankful for and not just on Thanksgiving.
-Logan Williamson, LPC