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Giving thanks, expressing and receiving gratitude is what Thanksgiving is all about. It originates from 1621 when Native Americans and U.S. settlers came together for a shared harvest feast.

Learning to receive is powerful medicine. It has the power to fill us and recharge us

The survival of the pilgrims would have been impossible if they had not received help and guidance from the native peoples. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared two national Thanksgivings; one in August to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg and the other in November to give thanks for general blessings. In his Gettysburg Address that same year, Lincoln offered his deep and reverent gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice that the soldiers who died in battle had made. In these historic examples, giving thanks followed urgently and naturally from having received something of deep import.

How to Practice Gratitude

It’s much easier to talk about gratitude, however, than it is to practice it. The reason for this lies in what must precede any feeling of gratitude—the willingness to be open to receive. Receiving feels risky. We tend to like and feel more comfortable giving to others than feeling the vulnerability of receiving. When we are giving, we feel a sense of control and the power of our own efficacy. We feel strong and in charge.

Too often, receiving is mistakenly viewed as a passive, weakened state in which someone more capable reaches down to fill us when we cannot fill ourselves. Perhaps this distortion has resulted from a misunderstanding of the required reciprocity that constitutes health promoting, love and support. We fear people will label us as a “taker.” The reciprocal side of giving is not taking, but receiving. Our bodies model this balanced configuration beautifully for us. In order to live and grow, we must breathe in and breathe out. We nourish and we excrete. The heart, our tireless advocate, will fail if there is not equal, healthy blood flow into and out of its chambers.

Finding Balance During the Holidays

Sadly, generous individuals who give and give on a daily basis are often the very ones who become so imbalanced that their receiving channels atrophy due to lack of use. Overtime this will inevitably result in the isolation of burnout and ill health. Holiday pressures, rife with endless, perceived obligations and unreasonable expectations of “doing it all” often prompt this unhealthy imbalance. Perhaps we could plan for a more balanced holiday season by pausing now and taking a love and support self-inventory.

Consider these questions:

Learning to Receive

Learning to receive is a powerful part of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine. It has the power to fill us and recharge us. Our self-reflections this Thanksgiving must include the time and attention necessary to attend to our health needs. This is not selfish, but highly responsible. When we feel better, we do better. Precisely because we have become better receivers, we are then able to be greater contributors in the world. Simultaneously, we will also heal our fears of indebtedness as we notice how happy others feel when we openly receive their offerings. When we do not allow others to give to us, we deprive them. Poet May Sarton summed it up nicely: “There is only one real deprivation…and that is not to be able to give one’s gifts to those one loves the most.”

Receiving is the less recognized, but critical other side of giving. One plus the other equals flourishing health, happiness and connection.

How do you balance both giving and receiving during the holiday season?

Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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