5 tips to enjoy a happy and healthy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Most of us learned that the first Thanksgiving celebration occurred in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (My daughter got married right down the road from Plymouth last September, and we included an offering of the traditional Native American “three sisters” harvest for the celebration.)

But in reality, people had been setting aside a day to give thanks for the harvest long before 1621. In fact, an early, colonial, American Thanksgiving took place on Berkley Plantation in Virginia, years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Plus, Native Americans gave thanks each year for their harvest long before any Europeans settled here. The French and Spanish also had earlier Thanksgiving observations during the 1500s in their settlements in Florida (the state where I now celebrate Thanksgiving). And the annual “Harvest Home” celebrations in England date back even further.

These annual harvest celebrations—no matter when or where they took place—shared common themes. So, today, let’s talk about five enduring and meaningful Thanksgiving traditions…

1.) It’s a day to serve locally grown, fresh, wholesome food

The colonists prepared traditional autumn feasts using whole, fresh foods from the season’s harvest. In fact, William Bradford, colonial governor during the early settlement in the Plymouth colony, took an inventory of the crops the settlers grew that first season. He said they had, “All sorts of roots and herbs/parsnips, carrots, turnips/onions, melons, cucumbers, radishes/skirrets, beets, coleworts and fair cabbages.”

Of course, colonists learned how to plant, harvest, and prepare seasonal favorites—including beans, corn, pumpkins, and squash—from their Native Americans neighbors. And these foods still make healthy, delicious additions to our modern Thanksgiving table.

In fact, this simple, traditional approach of serving local, fresh, whole food is the healthiest way to eat with the highest nutrient content. It’s even gaining popularity, thanks to the “farm-to-table” movement.

So, hopefully, at today’s meal, you’re incorporating some local dairy, produce, and meats to share with your guests.

2.) It’s a day to experience real gratitude

As the name suggests, Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude. And as I explain in the November issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“The pill-free secret to adding a decade—or more—onto your lifespan”), gratitude is a powerful and healthy emotion. It can even increase your longevity by up to 15 percent!

So, even amidst some chaos that may occur during the day, of course, take time to give thanks. Perhaps even write down three things you’re grateful for—no matter how big or how small. The key is to actually think about and record them. Then, make a vow to do this practice daily. This simple step can help change your outlook and make you a more “naturally” positive and optimistic person.

3.) It’s a day to spend time with those you care about

At the early Thanksgiving celebrations, the whole community came together to enjoy the meal. In fact, in one of the only surviving documents from Plymouth that references the first Thanksgiving celebration, Edward Winslow wrote about this vibrant sense of community, “Amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, who for three days we entertained and feasted.”

These kinds of positive social interactions have many health benefits. In fact, science shows that sharing a meal (and a glass of wine, cider, or ale) with loved ones reduces stress, the No.1 risk factor for heart disease.

Of course, if you need a break from all the togetherness today, take a nice walk outside in the brisk air after your meal. Spending time in Nature, especially at this time of year, benefits the body, mind, and spirit.

4.) It’s a day to practice moderation

We’ve come to associate our Thanksgiving “feasts” with eating until we can’t possibly eat anymore. But our ancestors practiced an approach I always advocate…moderation.

In fact, according to Winslow, the food prepared for the feast, “served the company almost a week.” And you can bet that none of the pilgrims or Native Americans had to loosen their belts at the dinner table. (Who wanted to wrestle with those big buckles anyway?)

So, as you sit down to enjoy your family’s feast today, try scaling back to enjoy a little bit of everything. Opt for a modest, rather than a heaping, spoonful of potatoes…a drizzle, instead of a deluge, of gravy…and a slice, rather than a wedge, of spiced pumpkin pie. You’ll still get all of the delicious flavors and variety—but without the excessive calories. Or the indigestion.

Now, before I send you back to your family and friends, I’ll leave you with some words from the first president of the United States, George Washington. He made this proclamation on October 3, 1789, about setting aside an official day of thanks in our country:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

So, with a grateful heart, I’ll bid you goodbye for now, and will return to you tomorrow with another seasonal Daily Dispatch…this time about pumpkin spice.