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Feb 14, 2016

Thanksgiving Day

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By Dr. B. M. Hegde, India [ Published Date: November 24, 2009 ]

"Happiness is a virtue, not its reward" -- Baruch Spinoza (1633-1677)

The United Nations declared the last Thursday of November as the world Thanksgiving Day in 2000 AD taking the cue from Americans. "United Nations decided the year 2000 as the 'International thanksgiving year' in order to celebrate the gift of life as the noblest expression of the human spirit. The activities undertaken by Centre of World "Thanksgiving included surveying the member countries of United Nations and study their harvest related festivals. The survey laid emphasis on the importance of thanksgiving as an expression of gratitude in history, in arts, in philosophy and in religion as also served the purpose of fostering cultural relations among member countries." Lastly, the declaration intended to promote friendly relations among people, a laudable motive, indeed.


"In the autumn of 1621, about a year after the Mayflower Pilgrims made landfall at Plymouth, they arranged a feast to break bread with their Native American neighbours, the Wampanoag, who were celebrating their harvest festival, the Keepunumuk." The menu included fowl, venison and fish, along with wheat and corn products. Edward Winslow wrote an account of the celebrations thus: "And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us [when we were back in England], yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you [our English brethren] partakers of our plenty."

Sporadic national, regional and individual Thanksgivings followed, but the day did not become an annual, national holiday until 1863. President Abraham Lincoln, spurred on by writer Sarah Joseph Hale, proclaimed a national holiday on the last Thursday of November to express thanks for the many blessings enjoyed by Americans like natural resources, population growth despite military conflicts etc. Of course, in this happiness they forgot India, which was responsible for their getting this beautiful country. When Europe became very poor after the new Empire in Turkey blocked the only land route to India from Europe, European business literally came to a standstill. Time was when, the end of 12th Century, the world was run by Indian spices trade as it is run by information and technology today. The Queen of Spain announced an award for anyone who would dare to find a water route to India. Christopher Columbus took the bait despite warnings by elders that anyone who sails to the west from the lands end in Spain would die as per the predictions of Marco Polo.

Columbus started from the land’s end going west and reached Cuba. He thought it was India as there were plenty of spices there as well and the New World was discovered. Rest is history. The insignia on the original Spanish flag was, Ne Plus Ultra, (No More Beyond) was changed to Plus Ultra (More Beyond) after Columbus discovered the New World! Indian spices got the American people this beautiful country by default. They have to be thankful to us, Indians as well.

Benefits of Thanksgiving

Scientifically thanksgiving, that is gratitude, is the best tonic to boost one’s immune system. The timing of the Thanksgiving Day, in the middle of the winter, is ideal as winter illnesses with various viruses, could be prevented by this positive thought. Negative thoughts, thoughts that eat into human mind, are the most potent disease producing factors known. Greed, jealously, anger, hatred and frustration could precipitate most killer diseases from heart attacks to cancer. Positive thoughts could, on the contrary, reverse the disease trend.

"Thousands of years of literature talk about the benefits of cultivating gratefulness as a virtue," says University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons. Throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have extolled gratitude as a virtue integral to health and well-being. Now, through a recent movement called positive psychology, scientists are taking a close look at how virtues such as gratitude can benefit our health. And they're reaping some promising results."

"Grateful people -- those who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind -- have an edge on the not-so-grateful when it comes to health, according to Emmons' research on gratitude."Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations," Emmons tells. "Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress," Emmons says.

"Even in the face of tremendous loss or tragedy, it's possible to feel gratitude. In fact, adversity can boost gratitude, recent findings show. In a web-based survey tracking the personal strengths of more than 3,000 American respondents, researchers noted an immediate surge in feelings of gratitude after Sept. 11, 2001."

What is the secret of this happening? Christopher Peterson, PhD, the University of Michigan psychologist who posted the survey, "attributes this surge in gratitude among Americans post 9/11 to a sense of increased belonging. These feelings offered more than community building. Gratitude in the aftermath of 9/11 helped buffer people against the negative effects of stress, making them less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder", explains Emmons.

Indian Ayurveda puts gratitude and forgiveness high on the list of human immune boosters. Charity, empathy, forgiveness, kindness, authenticity, and contentment are the antidotes for all illnesses, according to Ayurveda. The Indian sect of Jains, who follow the teachings of Mahaveera, observe a week every year as the forgiveness week where they go round asking people to forgive them for any inadvertent mistakes that they might have committed during the year that went by. What a laudable idea? In the present era of information technology they circulate email forgiveness messages to all their contacts all over the world. The ageless wisdom of India, the Sanaathana Dharma, has many such anecdotes in our scriptures.

The Mahabharata

At the end of the war, with all their near and dear one dead, the Pandava brothers wanted to retire and go to heaven. On their last journey they were accosted by the voice of a Yaksha, who would ask a question to each of them. The condition was that if the answer was right they would proceed further and reach heaven, if not, they would fall dead on the spot. All the brothers of Dharmaraya were dead. It was his turn last to answer the question and the Yaksha was kind enough to give the man an advantage in that if his answers were to be correct all his dead brothers also would wake up and accompany Dharmaraya to heaven. The benevolent King, Dharmaraya, agrees to the condition. The question was very simple. Yaksha asked: "What is the greatest sin on earth?" Without batting an eyelid the King answered that "it is ingratitude." Lo and behold! all his brothers woke up and the story goes that they all went to heaven peacefully.

Simple truths were conveyed to our ancestors through this kind of mythological stories to make them have better compliance from the masses. The beauty of Indian mythology is that the moral behind the stories are scientifically true and are beneficial to mankind as a whole.  Late KM Munshi, a great thinker, once wrote of the Mahabharata thus: "What is not in the Mahabharata is nowhere." That speaks volumes about the Mahabharata. Even the Bhagavad-Gita, the song celestial, that gave tranquility to great scientists like Albert Einstein and Oppenheimer at times of distress, was a part of that great epic.

Gratitude, as a virtue, is being extolled in all the world religions ranging from Judaism, Christianity to Islam. All the eastern philosophies, mainly the Confucian school of thought, did uphold gratitude as a virtue. Happy Thanksgiving Day folks. Enjoy the day while the business community makes hay when the sun shines by making you buy lots of things for which you have no immediate need under the guise of holiday Sales every day. You better imbibe the spirit of gratitude as your second nature to live well and let others live well. Let that not be confined to one day in a year. Make every day of the year a Thanksgiving Day.

"Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand." - Baruch Spinoza (1633-1677)

Dr. B. M. Hegde MD, FRCP, FRCPE, FRCPG, FRCPI, FACC, FAMS, is editor-in-chief of The Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes; chairman, State Health Society’s Expert Committee, Govt. of Bihar, India, Visiting Prof. Cardiology at The Middlesex Hospital Medical School - University of London, Affiliate Prof. of Human Health - Northern Colorado University, Visiting Prof. Indian Institute of Advanced Studies - Shimla,  Retd.  Vice Chancellor, MAHE University - Manipal. Prof Hedge regularly gives talks on AIR, Doordarshan, BBC and Zee TV, London. 

 Comment on this article
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BM Hegde, India :
Dear George,
Please go to to read more articles.
george borromeo, India :
I really love this Doctor's articles. He is a down to earth person. Always criticises the commercialisation of Medical Profession. I like to read more of your articles.
A.S.Mathew, USA :
Great article about Thanksgiving day.
You have explained the mental and pschological impact of having a thankful heart, which is a great lesson that everybody must learn, so that they can have a healty and long life.
Irene E.P., India :
Thank you Dr. Hegde for the article and I came to know the history of Thanksgiving day. I read your articles(Very knowledgeable) in Kannada papers and I am very grateful to you for all of your articles. It broadens ones knowledge.
Puttur Dinesh, USA :
Good article Prof.

One of the problems of thanksgiving is during the hoilday season, from thanksgivng to Christmas, peope put on about 8-10 pounds of weight. There will not any hosiptal admissions on thanksgiving day but the next day there will be people coming to the ER with chest pain due to the heavy load of food they have eaten the previous day. It is also a good time for family members to dump their elderly needing care, in the hospitals. I think That is life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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