Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Unlike Halloween, it's not about dressing up in costumes (which my best friend Jen and I do all the time; we don't need an excuse). Unlike Christmas/Hanukah, it isn't about gifts and shopping. It's simply about expressing gratitude.
A recent article in The New York Times points to a growing mountain of research supporting the idea that gratitude is good for us. The article states that "cultivating an 'attitude of gratitude' has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners."
Yet somehow, in the subtle way our consumer culture often does, we've managed to twist even my favorite holiday into a materialistic occasion. In every storefront, magazine article, and blog posting we see, we're made to think that the real meaning of Thanksgiving is food.
Sharing a delicious, homemade meal with our loved ones is a ritual to be savored. Yet while celebrating Thanksgiving with a feast may give us an excuse to come together, we don't have to stuff ourselves to the point of bursting to make it a happy holiday.
Too often, in fact, we eat out of fear. Psychologists call this "emotional eating." Have you ever noticed yourself taking an extra helping of pizza or making your way to the freezer for ice cream when you are anxious, depressed, lonely, angry, or upset? Food is not the answer to our interpersonal problems. Love is.
And so, in honor of the holidays, as a reminder of its true meaning, I'd like to offer this mantra: LOVE MORE, EAT LESS.
I derived it from my personal mantra of the last several years: LOVE MORE, FEAR LESS. Here's how my mantra evolved.
Within one month in 2005, I experienced two traumas that reshaped my existence. First, I separated from my husband and partner of nine years. Next, I watched in horror as my father's conviction for a federal crime was plastered across the front page of the Honolulu newspaper.
My entire world crumbled. I went from a relatively smooth and easy life, in which I demanded no less than perfection from myself and those around me, to a lost soul who didn't know who she was or what she stood for. Anxiety consumed me. I couldn't sleep without taking pills. I became convinced, at age 32, that I'd never have a family of my own.
Yoga, meditation, poetry and spiritual books, being outdoors in nature, and the love of friends and family got me through these dark days. I began to see how fear overtakes us, causing us to act from a place of panic, a mentality of scarcity, and an attitude of grasping.
I adopted the mantra: FEAR LESS. And that helped me a great deal. I began to surrender to a higher power. I realized that no matter how hard I tried or how much I planned, I would never be able to completely control my external reality. What I could control, however was my reaction to the events that happened to me. I could choose to accept where life had taken me and make the best of it.
I often thought of the serenity prayer recited in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference."
My anxiety lessened. After many months of loosening my grip on the steering wheel of life, I found myself cruising down the highway and actually enjoying the view. I was invaded by peace.
Still, something was missing from my mantra...
Then, in the spring of 2010, I journeyed to Haiti post-earthquake to volunteer with my friend and role model Alison Thompson at Sean Penn's non-profit, J/P HRO. Many friends advised against it.
"It's too dangerous," they said.
But I remembered to "fear less," took a deep breath, raised several thousand dollars in donations, and ventured onward. In the tent villages of Port-au-Prince, offering counseling, hugs, and smiles to people who had lost their health, homes, and loved ones, the completion of my mantra came to me loud and clear: LOVE MORE.
Now I recite this mantra to myself on a daily basis: LOVE MORE, FEAR LESS.
By giving to others, we heal our own wounds. We become happier, more fulfilled, and even live longer. So yes, fear less: take on your demons, push yourself past your limits, be brave and bold. But also, love more, starting with yourself. You are beautiful, unique, and totally loveable. You have so much to offer the world.
So remember to bring yourself and your loved ones back to the core purpose of the occasion: Expressing gratitude. Say a little prayer. Give thanks for all that you have.