Giving thanks boosts mood, but Thanksgiving may not.
Though the story behind Thanksgiving is multi-faceted (Cain and Hadden, 2022), millions will celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November. They’ll be dedicating a chunk of time to give thanks. However, their experiences may not match the research.
Studies on gratitude
A 2023 meta-analysis and review concluded that gratitude interventions can positively affect people.
- increasing feelings of and recognition of appreciation
- upping life satisfaction levels
- boosting mental health
- uplifting mood and positive emotions experienced
Yet many people feel sadder and more anxious on Thanksgiving. For example, some people:
- feel extra alone or lonely
- worry about the extra pressures
- can’t afford to celebrate but want to
- dislike being together on the holidays
- already struggle with mental distress that the day amplifies
There’s a lot that Thanksgiving can bring up for folks. We don’t choose the day; it happens to us. And there are often unrealistic expectations of glee amid a complex world. Some might go so far as to categorize those expectations as toxic positivity.
If you forecast a potentially emotionally challenging holiday, here are four things you can do to support or improve your mental wellness.
Tips: Feel, accept, give, and breathe
- Feel. Recognize that having negative feelings—even big ones—on Thanksgiving does not mean you are wrong, weird, or failed the holiday. Holidays can push a demand for positivity too far. It’s not realistic.
- Accept. You’d probably prefer that you felt differently or had a different situation. If you can accept your feelings instead of beating yourself up with shoulds (I should feel this or that), you’ll probably be able to move through the day easier and better.
- Give. If you had a friend who was sad, stressed, lonely, or whatever, what would you give them? A hug? Encouragement? Attunement? Compassion? Give that to yourself.
- Breathe. If you notice you’re getting riled up emotionally, practice a long exhale immediately. Unless you have a reason that you should not do breathing exercises (for example, maybe something medical), they can be fab for chilling out the nervous system and other body responses to building emotions (for example, shoulders creeping up or stuck high by ears, heart beating faster).
Gratitude can improve well-being—as the research shows. I’ve seen that even performative or forced gratitude can be effective for some (the fake it ‘til you make it concept). If you are into celebrating and trying to be thankful, fantastic! A whole calendar day of it may give you a lot of positive benefits.
And if you are not into Thanksgiving, that’s okay, too. There are 364 other days of the year to see if gratitude benefits you, such as uplifting your mood, increasing overall well-being, and so on. For you, Thanksgiving may be more about offering grace to those around you and possibly practicing the four skills from this post: feeling, accepting, giving, and breathing.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide therapy or professional advice.
Diniz, G., Korkes, L., Tristão, L. S., Pelegrini, R., Bellodi, P. L., & Bernardo, W. M. (2023). The effects of gratitude interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Einstein (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 21, eRW0371.
Gratitude and Well-Being. Psychiatry (Edgmont).