What do you think of when you imagine Thanksgiving Holiday? Family and friends gathered around a crackling fire? An image of “the perfect family” eating a fabulous feast together, while laughing with one another? The Publix commercial image of happiness at the holidays? We all have expectations about what the holidays should be like built up by social media, retail stores, the entertainment industry, etc., causing us to expect some magical holiday season. When we arrive for Thanksgiving and it isn’t the “perfect” day and everyone doesn’t “get along perfectly”, we are disappointed. Our holiday expectations are unmet, and this, along with other factors, can lead to depression. Many benefits arise from ridding ourselves of unrealistic expectations…and getting to the true meaning of the holiday. Let’s start with Thanksgiving….
It is important for us to reflect on the idea of thankfulness.
Thankfulness is “feeling or expressing gratitude; being appreciative” (dictionary.com). As a therapist, I have seen many benefits of practicing gratitude and have witnessed its role in the treatment of depression. Practicing thankfulness is a beneficial antidote in the treatment of depression; similar to the widely known treatments such as medication and/or psychotherapy.
When a person is struggling with depression, his thought life is typically distorted and negative. One of the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder is the presence of suicidal thoughts. Distorted thinking, a client having more negative than positive thoughts, suicidal thinking, and irrational thinking are all symptoms of a person who is dealing with depression. This is why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is used to treat depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on their behavior (psychology.about.com). Our thoughts lead to our feelings which lead to our behaviors (thoughts –> feelings–> behaviors). If we are stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, we will feel sad, and then we will act depressed. However, thankfulness allows us to change our negative thinking into positive thinking, thus fighting depression. For example, a person may have the thought “I am so frustrated that my car keeps having to go to the shop”. This thought makes a person feel upset which then makes them behave in ways an upset person would (moping/feeling sorry for themselves/isolating self). However, if thankfulness is added and the person thinks “I am so thankful I even have a car“. This thought makes the person feel joy, enabling the person to behave in ways a joyful person would (engaging with others. higher energy levels). Thankfulness has a big role in combating negative thinking, which treats depression.
A specific exercise used by therapists to fight depression is called “thanking your mind”. Your mind offers you many thoughts in an effort to protect you–trying to get you to judge whats good or bad for you, predict dangerous possibilities, etc. Your mind is working to help you survive and overcome problems. However, your mind can run wild and obsessively focus on thoughts that make you miserable (McKay, Davis, & Fanning, 2011, p. 132). One way to deal with these thoughts is to thank your mind for its efforts to protect you. As each negative thought shows up, simply say, “Thank you mind, for that thought”. This helps you to just appreciate that your mind gave you a thought to protect you, but helps you not to dwell on negative thoughts (McKay et. al, 2011, p. 132).
As a Christian, God’s word tells us to be thankful. Phil 4: 6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus” (New International Version). Thankfulness creates a form of tranquility, or peace of mind. We cannot have two separate thoughts at the same time: it is difficult to worry and be thankful at the same time. We aren’t that smart! Colossians 3:15 says “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (New International Version). Can you see the connection between thankfulness and peace? The more thankful we are, the more God’s peace will rule our hearts and minds, combating depression and other forms of despair.
Johnson, S.L. (2004). Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention: The 1-2-3’s of treatment planning (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (2011). Thoughts and feelings: Taking control of your moods and your life (4th ed.) Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.