According to the popular history of America, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated with the Pilgrims and Native Americans in honor of the collaboration and new friendship between the two groups. It was time to give thanks for not dying during the first hard years in the New World and to honor the Native Americans who taught the newcomers how to live in this new world. Over the years Thanksgiving grew into a national holiday devoted to remembering the blessings of the past year.

Unfortunately, for a lot of Americans it has also become a time of extreme stress. Many people find the tension of a large family gathering difficult because of unhealed wounds. Many people feel pressured to present the “perfect” picture of Norman Rockwell happiness with perfectly carved turkey, homemade sides, and amazing desserts all displayed alongside perfectly manicured children who haven’t destroyed their special clothes for the occasion. This image is exploited by the advertising company in hopes of pressuring a few bucks out of those desperately searching for perfection at the holiday.

Between trying to balance family tensions and the pressure of creating the best meal yet, the true meaning of Thanksgiving can get lost. Now, I’m going to make a kind of extreme statement here, but I think it’s accurate. I think this loss of meaning for a holiday focused on blessings is a symptom of a greater problem in our society right now. For years, the western hemisphere has become obsessed with image and acquiring the newest and best. In this kind of environment, we have forgotten to look at the things we have and to live in the moment. This focus on the future and inability to find contentment in the moment leads to feelings of worthlessness at not being able to keep up with the Joneses, feelings of helplessness when factors out of your control (can anyone say economy) wreak havoc on your finances, worries about how you’re going to maintain the standard you have set for yourself, and a desparate search for something to numb the pain.

It is easy to see the descriptions of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders in the previous paragraph. New research also shows some interesting connections between thankfulness and decreased depression and anxiety. One study found that participants who wrote down three things they were thankful for each day for three weeks saw an improvement in depressive symptoms for SIX months. Something as simple as being thankful decreased depression to a significant level.

So in honor of Thanksgiving, here are some ideas about bringing some of the true nature of the holiday into your holiday. In short, putting the Thanks back into Thanksgiving and getting rid of some of the stress, pressure, and family drama out.

1) Prior to the chaos of preparing the meal, tkae time to think about what you truly want people to feel while enjoying the products of your work. If you are honest with yourself, you probably want to impart a feeling of love and caring in your family as they enjoy each other’s company.

2) While preparing your meal, remember times from the past that were happy or made the holiday so special for you. Whether you’re cooking the traditional meal or bringing home Boston Market, focusing on you true purposes behind these preparations will help take some of the pressure off creating the perfect meal.

3) For that matter, get everyone involved in making the meal together. Rather than making the entire meal on your own, invite your family into the kitchen with you to share in the process of creating a meal together. Or, just have everyone bring a side dish. It will give you more time to relax before the family descends and leave you with a lot less clean up.

4) Whether or not your family prays prior to the meal, you may want to try to incorporate a way to share what you are thankful for just before the meal. It is nice to stand in a circle, hold hands with your loved ones, and give thanks for your blessings.

5) After the meal participate in something that has the family interact. If you all love football, by all means watch the game together. But, if that’s not your thing break out the board games, go for a walk, or simply sit by the fire (hopefully it’s cold enough for that).

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about what this special time of year should really be about. I have a feeling that there may be a move back to the roots of Thanksgiving, simply because the financial hardships many are facing make it impossible to create the extravagant feasts that may have been a part of the past. Even in these tough times, the people who survive and even prosper are not necessarily the richest. Our lives are not about the things that we accumulate but about the times we spend with those who lift us up and bring us peace. I hope that you and yours are able to reconnect with the true thanks giving that this holiday is all about. Happy Thanksgiving.