It’s not a cliché to reflect on why you are grateful this time of year; it’s an essential part of good overall health. Gratitude is a virtue that, I believe, gives us a perspective that helps with healing and is the key difference between surviving and thriving. I not only make a gratitude list on Thanksgiving, I try to think of the blessings in my life on a daily basis. But Thanksgiving provides a few unique opportunities: I usually make a longer list and include less obvious elements. I can also call people to tell them how much I appreciate them and how thankful I am that they are in my life without sounding strange or make anyone suspicious I have started a mental twilight.
I find this holiday of societally sanctioned gratitude a real treat, and I have always emerged feeling better after a round of phone calls or emails. Sure, it’s obvious to pick people you haven’t connected with in a while, but I offer a different challenge: pick someone with whom you have had a conflict of some kind – or someone with whom a phone call brings discomfort – pick up the phone (email is OK, but a less desirable option), call them and say hello. Acknowledge that you haven’t spoken in a while and simply say you wanted to say hello and that you appreciate them. That’s it. I guarantee you’ll feel better. Latent conflicts in our lives are still stressful. Enmity and silence solve nothing and perpetuate the toxic stress that robs us of our happiness and, ultimately, our physical health. Believe me, I understand how uncomfortable certain circumstances can be, but no amount of awkwardness outweighs the emotional freedom you’ll feel when you hang up.
Before I get to my phone calls, I will also share a few things on my list. Everyone usually has their family in their gratitude reflection in some form – and I have a large wonderful family that both keeps me in check and nourishes my spirit. My wife Lisa and I celebrated 28 years of marriage in June, and my specific thoughts on this blessing are that, beyond the happy times and laughter, the challenges and growth that a 28-year marriage demands has made me a better man than I ever could envision. Marriage will change you for the better if you let it.
When I was in medical school, I thought partaking in the life and death scenarios of surgery would be profound. It was. But being a dad and watching my four children grow up blows it away. Lisa and I are at a unique juncture; our children’s age spread finds us at parent-teacher conferences, while also looking at a sonogram of our future grandchild. Raising kids is the most important work we will do as we wander this earth, and it’s the most rewarding even when it’s least apparent. Every parent knows how hard it is. I am no exception, so let’s all cut ourselves a break for a moment.
Lastly, I get stopped by people who mention they learned something on my show or read my newspaper column and benefitted from it That makes me appreciate the hundreds of people who work with me in the operating room, on my staff and in the companies that bring that information to the public. I couldn’t do my work as a doctor, author or talk-show host without the hard work of scores of individuals who share my mission to teach people how to show up in their own lives. Like my family, they challenge me and make me better.
Happy Thanksgiving. Now go make some calls.
Mehmet Oz is host of The Dr. Oz Show and a cardiothoracic surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia.
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