Australians are usually quite fond of copying all things American. We love our U.S. TV shows, we are so proud when one of our celebrities marries an American we adopt them as de-facto Australians à la Tom Cruise and we have even taken Halloween on as our own.
So I find it quite surprising that we haven't been willing to take on one major American tradition -- Thanksgiving Day, which this year falls on Thursday November 24.
I confess I don't know much about it beyond what I've seen on American sitcoms. According to this extensive research, it's a day when the family gather for a meal during which old family secrets are uncovered, there's an argument about who forgot to buy the turkey (or the turkey is too big to fit in the oven or the oven wasn't turned on or the turkey is actually a chicken or a variation on one of these themes) and something about "stuffing" which always escaped me.
Other than the family arguments, it actually seems like quite a nice concept -- certainly nicer than dressing up as ghouls and sending your kids off to ask creepy looking strangers for lollies.
So I've been wondering why Australians have seemed less than enamoured of this most American of holidays.
The only conclusion I can come to is that Australians are a little too cynical for a holiday as naked in its positivity as Thanksgiving. We are happy go lucky, sure, but shiny-happy we are not. Australians are real. Down to earth. We don't tend to like fluffy idealism or talking about feelings. And so Thanksgiving Day has never really taken hold here.
I'm with the majority on this one, but for a different reason. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of "Days" in general. I went through the "Day" calendar and pretty much 365 days of the year are covered with something. I like birds as much as the next person, but I'm just not sure why there's a need for a World Sparrow Day. The way we now have a "Day" to raise awareness for seemingly anything and everything actually cheapens the message for me, especially since for many of these Days there's a level of cynical consumerism attached.
Mostly I'm anti an Australian adoption of Thanksgiving Day because I believe something as important as giving thanks for what we have shouldn't be a once-a-year thought bubble. In fact, I think regularly expressing gratitude could not be more critical at a time when negativity seems to be all pervasive.
For the cynics out there, there is actually a wealth of scientific evidence that demonstrates that practicing gratitude daily improves an individual's physical and mental health. If it was a medication, doctors would be hailing it as a wonder drug. Gratitude has been shown to boost the immune system, improve quality of sleep, lower blood pressure and even reduce physical pain.
It's also been shown to enhance mental health by improving resilience and feelings of optimism, and reducing negative emotions such as envy, regret, frustration and resentment.Scientists studying positive psychologyactually found that a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10 percent increase in happiness and 35 percent reduction in depressive symptoms. People who practice gratitude are also more likely to show compassion to others, thereby improving not just an individuals health, but the collective wellbeing too.
There are many different ways to practice gratitude. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal can significantly increase wellbeing and life satisfaction. Meditation and yoga are also built on an ethos of being conscious and appreciative of the space which we inhabit.
The happy effects of practicing gratitude aren't fleeting either, with research pointing to a lasting impact of between three to six months. Interestingly, Robert Emmons' research showed that focusing gratitude on the people for whom we're thankful rather than circumstances or material items actually enhances the benefits experienced.
For myself, I take a moment each day to look up and consciously think about what I have to be grateful for. It's the easiest way I know to practice gratitude. It's free. It requires no fancy gear or expensive classes. I don't have to bend my body into unnatural shapes and I can do it any time in any place day or night. Sometimes I take a physical picture of my moment to be able to be reinspired by it at a later date, sometimes I just take a mental snap. Either way, taking that moment to look up helps me to breathe out in a chaotic and sometimes overwhelming world.
So let's leave the turkeys to the Americans, and give thanks each and every day for the lucky country in which we live. And if someone could please explain stuffing to me I'd be most grateful.