By Erin Marteal
Perry Ground, Turtle Clan (Onondaga Nation) member, cultural educator, and professional Native American storyteller, has presented “Rethinking Thanksgiving” several times in Ithaca in recent years. He explains that while our country sets aside a single day on the calendar in honor of giving thanks, among the Haudenosaunee people, giving thanks is a daily practice and way of life.
Based on a body of research and data, we generally understand that gratitude has positive effects on our health, mood, and happiness. We also know through volumes of data that spending time in contact with nature improves mental and physical health and decreases some of the conditions that impede happiness: Anxiety, depression and negative rumination, among others.
If you have a regular practice of gratitude, or spending time in nature, then you personally know the benefits. If you don’t, perhaps one of the following scenarios will help peel you out of your favorite chair, shed the fluffy slippers, and entice you into the wondrous (outdoor) world of gratitude, naturally.
To help facilitate more happiness this Thanksgiving season and beyond, I have put together a “tasting menu” of outdoor activities with a suggestion for weaving in gratitude, along with a recommended accompanying bite and beverage. Bon Appetit!
(Pairings curated to be yummy for all ages. Google search recipe titles and find the one that fits your time and energy levels.)
-Star Gazer. It’s Friday night and you’re heading to the Fuertes Observatory on Cornell’s campus. Open from 8 p.m. to midnight on the Cornell academic schedule, regardless of weather, the Observatory is an experience to take in this season. Looking at our galaxy and beyond serves as a useful reminder of scale, and how tiny we are in the cosmos. For every constellation you identify, match it to a gratitude of tiny scale. Give thanks for something very small that happened today that you might not normally appreciate. Pair with pizza moons to enjoy ahead of time, a thermos of hot cocoa, and constellation cookies. Or substitute Swiss cheese and a quick and easy Craters of the Moon Cake for a quicker bite.
-Acorn Hunter. Whether you live in the rural countryside or in downtown Ithaca, chances are high that you are within walking distance of an oak tree. Bring a basket with you and hunt for acorns. Collect as many acorns and acorn caps as you can find, and with everyone you add to your basket, say out loud the name of a plant or animal that provides something of value to your life. When you have finished collecting, consider making a gift out of the acorns – such as an acorn-edged frame around a favorite photo – and gift it to someone in your life who you don’t normally recognize. Pair with chocolate peanut butter acorn cookies and warm raspberry tea.
-Apples of the Earth. Where would we be without our hearty, comforting, versatile potatoes? Host a casual gathering of friends to make a simple dinner of potato leek soup together. Invite each one to bring a potato or leek to contribute to the pot. For every item that is added to the meal, invite the contributor to share a gratitude about something very basic in their life that they have never before expressed gratitude for. This could be as simple as “I’m grateful for my thumb that allows me to hold this spoon to stir the pot.” Pull the old sprouted potatoes from the back of the drawer and set aside with a container and potting soil for the kids to pot up for some life on the window sill through the dark months. Pair with apple kale salad and warm baguette.
-The Places We Go. Getting around is a necessity for much of life – grocery shopping, getting to work and school, exercise, and it is also an important part of what our area offers for recreation. However mobility is riddled with challenges for many. Choose a non-motorized mode of transportation – walking, cycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, scootering, etc. – and go on a 10-minute gratitude brainstorm journey. Note everything in your environment that you are grateful for. Go for quantity over quality. When you get back home, write down as many gratitudes as you can recall and add any new gratitudes that surface. Put them on display if you wish. Pair with wheel pasta salad and fresh pear slices.
-Water Water Everywhere. Visit your nearest natural water source – whether it’s a stream, creek, inlet, waterfall or Cayuga Lake. Notice the sounds and the feeling of the air and any changes in plant and animal activity since your last visit here. Consider all the ways water shapes our lives, and all the ways we rely on water every day. See how many ways you are thankful for the abundance of water in your life. Too cold? Head to the top floor of the Johnson Museum of Art and gaze at the lake from the warm indoors. Pair with seaweed snacks, goldfish crackers, and fish (or veggie) stew.
Regardless of whether you take on any of these suggested gratitude pairings, perhaps your Thanksgiving gratitude attitude can linger a little longer this holiday season, and generate happiness to share all through the year.
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Erin, who has has served Ithaca Children’s Garden as its executive director since 2011, would love to hear about your experiences with any of these pairings – or any pairings of your own – that enhance gratitude and outdoor nature in your life! She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.