Christmas comes earlier every year. Now we go right from Halloween (which becomes a bigger celebration each year) to Christmas decorations the next day (if not before). We don’t really even talk much about Thanksgiving, as everyone focuses on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and the great bargains we will pick up at the stores or online. Maybe Canadians have it right; they celebrate Thanksgiving in October before Halloween.
Since I love to eat, I love Thanksgiving. But it’s not just the food. I love the short work week. I love getting together with family. I love watching football. But best of all, I love to stop and think about, well, being thankful. It is something that most of us probably don’t do enough, especially since having gratitude is one of the best things we can do for own mental health.
Feeling gratitude is one sure way to make us happier. In fact, scientists have studied the effect feeling grateful has on the brain. Feeling grateful activates the brain stem that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable. One additional powerful effect of focusing on the positive aspects of your life increases serotonin production. In fact, just searching for something to be grateful for has this effect. In short, being grateful can have the same effect on your brain as Wellbutrin (which boosts dopamine) and Prozac (which boosts serotonin), without the side effects.
The loss of something we once had often intensifies our feelings of gratitude. Watch this clip from The Pianist,* the true story about a Polish Jewish musician trying to survive World War II. The gratitude nearly oozes from the screen as Wladyslaw Szpilman (the pianist) appreciates the simple gifts of bread and jam from a German officer, who in turn appreciates the beautiful music the pianist provides him. (You’ll have to copy and paste the link below into your browser.)
We can all be thankful for something. Even if you can’t pay your bills you can be thankful you’re not one of your own creditors! So how do we develop feelings of gratitude? Duh, by giving thanks! Whether you believe in God, the Force, or even just the greatness of the human spirit, each day we should stop and give thanks to whomever or whatever we believe in. And be specific. I love this short clip from The Fast and the Furious** where the car “dealers” say grace before their meal, expressing appreciation to the car gods for what they are thankful for.
Just as important, we should thank those around us that are special to us: our parents, our kids, our teachers, our friends. The great thing about thanking others is it uplifts both the person giving the thanks and person receiving the thanks. So let’s remember someone who helped us along the way, even if it were a long time ago, as these students do in The Emperor’s Club.*** Notice how important the thank yous are to the teacher as well as the students.
As the forgotten holiday approaches, let’s take a break from our Black Friday shopping to remember both Thanksgiving and giving thanks. Call a family member, send an email to a friend, mail a thank you card, give your mom or dad (or both!) a hug, and let each of them know how much you appreciate them. The time it will take will be small, but the rewards to both them and you will be enormous. Simply said, let’s get the entire world high on thanks, and avoid the warning of Harriet Beecher Stowe: “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
Let me start by saying how grateful I am for movies and the important lessons I have learned from them. And thank you for taking the time to read my posts and sometimes even sharing them with others.
Production: R.P. Productions, Heritage Films and Studio Babelsberg
Directed: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Ronald Harwood (based n the book by Wladyslaw Szpilman)
Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann and Frank Finlay
Release Date: March 28, 2003
**The Fast and the Furious
Production: Universal Pictures, Original Film, MediaStream Film
Directed: Rob Cohen
Screenplay: Ken Li and Gary Scott Thompson
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez
Release Date: June 22, 2001
***The Emperor’s Club
Production: Beacon Communications, Fine Line Features and Horsepower Films
Directed: Michael Hoffman
Screenplay: Ethan Canin and Neil Tolkin
Starring: Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch and Joel Gretsch
Release Date: November 22, 2002