This week was a first for me, I celebrated Thanksgiving with some american friends. For those of you who are yet to be completely absorbed into american culture (or have somehow not seen every episode of Friends at least 5 times) , thanksgiving is pretty much the same as our Christmas…but instead of complaining about how disgusting sprouts taste and getting in port-fuelled fights with your annoying relatives, you take turns to thank each other and say something you are grateful for. In essence, the tradition is to take a step back and look for at the positives in life, spreading happy thoughts and kind words.
Now I know this sounds like the most cringeworthy and forced exercise that would never work in a British family. I’m not going to lie, as each person sincerely looked each other in the eye and thanked them for their friendship and kindness, it took all of my efforts not to crack a joke or make a sarcastic comment. When it got to my turn I turned into a flustered mess, first lamely making a joke about how I was thankful to be eating pie, followed by a lamer joke about how I was thankful I’m not American and subsequently offending everyone at the table. Beside the excessive food and alcohol consumption, Thanksgiving did not sit well with my very British self. It’s actually quite sad that, despite being surrounded by family and friends, our culture has made us unable to be sincerely or express positive thoughts without it being annoying.
To my surprise, the next day’s headline in the Guardian read ‘Welcome to Britsgiving’. Apparently, the UK has officially embraced Thanksgiving; Turkey sales were up 95% in five years and #Happythanksgiving started trending on twitter in Britain. Apart from feeling slightly sad that we have to follow like a puppy dog instead of letting America get on with their own traditions, my first thought was how did my fellow brits manage to express their gratitude without becoming a sarcastic, blushing mess like I did? I assumed that all Brits felt the same as me. How often do we enjoying the cathartic relief of knowing people are as cynical and miserable as we are? We find it weirdly thrilling to despair with others about the horrible state of the world… what’s fun about being upbeat and positive?
For answers, I turned to positive psychology, a discipline which investigates human happiness. There are quite a few studies that argue there is actually a psychological benefit of Thanksgiving on our mental health. I’ve always been told that the holiday season acts as a catalyst for depression; increased alcohol consumption, high relapse rates, big family feuds, spending loads of money on ugly jumpers for random cousins, shitty weather, the constant reminder that you are alone…it’s not exactly shocking that suicide rates reach an all-time high around christmas time. So why is this different for Thanksgiving? One paper had college students write diaries for 3 weeks around Thanksgiving time. When they were analysed, researchers found significant increases in gratitude, satisfaction and overall positivity closer to the time of Thanksgiving. But interestingly, when they took gratitude out of the equation, satisfaction plummeted and negative emotions increased. Without the, albeit somewhat forced, gratitude, the stress become overwhelming. Despite the same family arguments, money troubles and travel woes we share on christmas, the central theme of gratitude softens the holiday stress and makes people focus on the positive.
Positive thinking is a powerful tool. A huge literature of research has linked happiness to physical health, mental health and longevity. The benefit of changing thought-processes, as with mindfulness, is partially due to the encouragement be less self-critical. Having a bias towards negative information and feelings has been linked to depression, bipolar, anxiety and eating disorders. So although it seems a little forced, contemplating on the good aspects of our lives and share that with others can help to counteract our inherent negativity bias. In no way am I suggesting that we should suppress our negative emotions, having a a stiff upper lip is definitely not a British trait to be valued. But tuning into the positive aspects can balance our negative biases and genuinely make us happier. So although it may make us squirm, we should try to embrace the mantra of Thanksgiving and express gratitude and positivity. Next year I will suck it up and find something nice to say…and I’ll probably be happier as a result. I’ve learnt my lesson; positivity is the way forward. And for that, I am thankful. Here are a couple of recipes I made for Thanksgiving, which would work well at any dinner party of festival. I’ll definitely be making both on christmas as they are both vegan and pretty delicious!
Sweet potato fries with balsamic and maple glaze: Sweet potato fries are all the rage these days, but this recipe gives them and added crispiness you can’t beat. You coat the chips in flour and then semi-deep fry them…the result is perfection!
3 large sweet potatoes
1 cup olive oil/coconut oil
2 tablespoons buckwheat/ any gluten-free flour
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Honey or maple syrup
1 table spoon olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Slice the sweet potatoes into chips/wedges
2. Boil in water for 5 mins to soften. Meanwhile, heat a thin layer of oil on a baking tray in the oven at 200.
3. Coat the chips in flour
4. Place chips in hot oil and bake for 30mins or until crispy. Season with salt and pepper
5. Mix balsamic, honey and olive oil for dressing and drizzle over the top.
Salted caramel apple pie bars: These chocolate, apple and salted caramel bars are ridiculously good. They taste like a mix between apple pie, flapjacks and millionaire shortbread. YUM.
3 cups of oats
3 cups of plain flour (can use gluten-free flours)
2 cups of sugar
1.5 cups of coconut oil (can also use butter for non-vegan)
1 jar of salted caramel
1 cup chocolate chips
3 peeled and chopped apples
1. Mix the flour, sugar and oats in a bowl. Add melted coconut oil and mix until a crumbly dough is formed
2. Grease a baking tin and press the dough along the bottom. Save a third of the dough to sprinkle on the top. Bake for 10 mins at 180
3. Take out of the oven and top the base with a layer of salted caramel, apple and chocolate chips. Crumble the remaining dough over the top.
4. Bake for 20-25 mins at 180 or until the apple is soft.
5. Cool and refrigerate before cutting into squares.