My hope is that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, a day so steeped in tradition. A day centered on the communal meal, the joining of family and friends old and new. A day set aside for giving thanks for our blessings. Yet, like any traditional holiday, a day for which customs and behaviors can change over the years.
For many homes, Thanksgiving has been an annual setting for the Olympics of home cooking – a proving ground for those relatives charged with creating magic in the kitchen, a day-long challenge that can be a trial by ordeal. Such cooking responsibilities come with loads of stress. It seems more and more people are becoming inclined to pass the baton and let commercial establishments do the work.
According to a Rasmussen Reports poll, in 2013, only 3 percent of Americans said they planned to have their Thanksgiving meal in a restaurant. This year, a National Restaurant Association poll found that 9 percent of respondents said they would be doing so.
Around the country, restaurant patrons are being lured by Thanksgiving dinners with all the fixings, special prix fixe gourmet meals or dinner in a box from stars like Martha Stewart. Folks have the option to sit down for this meal or get it to go.
According to the National Restaurant Association poll, 43 percent of those eating out said they planned to go shopping on Thanksgiving night or Black Friday. Of those who are venturing out, 72 percent say they will eat somewhere during their shopping venture, at either a fast-food place or a restaurant.
We will see how these projections play out once this year’s numbers are tallied. The trend appears consistent with recent findings showing that, regardless of where the food is sourced or who prepares it, our meals are increasingly being consumed at home.
According to consumer trend-tracking organization NPD, 49 percent of dinners purchased from a restaurant are consumed at home. Today, many home meals are a blend of dishes we prepare and those we purchase ready-to-eat from a food service establishment (as in fast-food franchises).
We should keep in mind that this dining trend does not necessarily mean we are eating better. An unfortunate reality remains: According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity remain leading causes of death in the U.S.
Let us also hope that these changes in food sourcing and eating venue do not cause us to forget that this holiday serves as an annual call to action – for giving thanks. Thanksgiving marks a time of year when the conversation is asked to shift to all the things for which we are thankful – to shift to the concept of gratitude.
There is much currently written about the concept of gratitude and its importance during this time of year. Let us just look at the benefits of being grateful as one example. Neurologists will tell you that taking time to be thankful has benefits for your well-being. Research shows that gratitude goes hand in glove with more optimism and less anxiety and depression. It is also associated with fewer symptoms of illness as well as other physical benefits.
Christina Karns, a researcher at the University of Oregon’s Center for Brain Injury Research and Training, reports in The Conversation on a recently conducted experiment on the connections between gratitude and altruism – and explores how changes in one might lead to changes in the other.
For this study, participants performed a giving activity while in the MRI scanner. They watched as the computer transferred real money to their own account or to the account of a local food bank. Researchers wanted to compare what happened in the brain when a participant received money versus when the same participant saw money given to the charity instead.
It turns out that the neural connection between gratitude and giving is very deep. “The human brain is amazingly flexible,” writes Karns. “Just keeping a written account about gratitude led people to report experiencing more of the emotion. Other recent work also indicates that gratitude practice makes people more supportive of others and improves relationships.”
The more altruistic versus self-gain responses resulted in a “neural currency” reward, says Karns. “So in terms of the brain’s reward response, it really can be true that giving is better than receiving.” Taking time to practice gratitude, she concludes, can help make giving the most rewarding activity of all.
For his latest book, New York Times best-selling author A.J. Jacobs decided to take the practice of gratitude from just counting his blessings to actually thanking the people who blessed him. In his book, “Thanks a Thousand,” he recounts his mission to thank every single person who played a part in making his morning coffee – not just the coffee shop barista. Jacobs spent the next six months traveling the world thanking people in person for his coffee, from the Colombian coffee farmer to the coffee lid designer to the woman who does pest control for the warehouse where the coffee beans are stored.
“When done well, gratitude causes happiness in both the person being thanked and the person doing the thanks,” Jacobs recently told the folks at Blue Zones. “It’s about battling the brain’s built-in negative bias. We are very good at noticing negative things … gratitude is about changing that mindset. It’s about noticing the hundreds of positive things that happen every day instead of focusing on the three or four that go wrong.”
Looks like the Bible had it right. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.