By Carolyn Pirak, LCSW

The upcoming holiday season is a wonderful time to focus on food, but don’t forget the friends, family, and fun. As fitness friends, we tend to put a greater, maybe even lopsided emphasis on the food portion of this equation. We worry about what to eat, what not to eat, how much to eat and how to exercise to work it off. Yet with all the focus on the food and a fear of failure for eating the wrong thing, it becomes easy to lose sight of what the holidays are really intended to be about. I can assure you the Pilgrims did not gather around their tables and talk about how many calories were in their meal or strategize about how to complete their holiday shopping.

Instead, the Thanksgiving weekend is an opportunity to slow down and connect with the people who matter most in your life. If the previous statement made you roll your eyes or think “oh please”, ask yourself why you react that way. Is it because you don’t like the traditions you have created or the people you are forced to spend the holidays with? Is it because the holidays have become too much work, or because you are simply overwhelmed by the details? Are holiday gatherings simply a tracker of your personal success or willpower, or a reminder of all the ways you think you have failed? If this is your reality, then you may be missing the point of the holiday season which is not just to eat a good meal but also to create shared meaning with those around you.

But how? If you remember back to Psych 101, this concept is called self-actualization and it is the top rung in the ladder of Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs. As human beings, we crave and need connections with others, and we are hard wired to go beyond the surface and create connections that have higher goals and a higher purpose. That does not mean a moment of connection has to be religious or extremely deep, it just means that it needs to be about more than counting calories. For many, the trendy concept of gratitude fulfills this need quickly and completely. For most, it’s not enough. This year, reflect on what you are thankful for but add a “because” statement to the end. This is the difference between simply expressing gratitude and finding shared meaning.

For example:

I am thankful for the opportunity to enjoy a great meal (gratitude) because it allows us to share what is going on in our lives which brings my family closer together. (shared meaning)

I am thankful for this time spent with my mother (gratitude) because it makes me realize she is aging and I appreciate how important she is in my life. (shared meaning)

Try it! Creating shared meaning with others will do more for your health than any cardio class. It will lower your blood pressure, increase your immunity to illness and release oxytocin which stimulates hormone function. Many of us are experts at recognizing what we appreciate in life (the beautiful sunset, the leaves on the trees, the time in our day to exercise with a fabulous group of women) but few of us extend the thinking to why we appreciate it. These realizations are what create the connections we feel with others. This is important work. Relationship research is clear that shared meaning leads to greater stability in our relationships with friends, family and with those who matter to us most… the people we typically choose to join us at the Thanksgiving table.


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About Zoë Dodds

Life, Health, and Fitness Coach

Zoë has a passion for helping and empowering women to the best version of themselves.

With 20 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, she delivers inspiration and wealth of knowledge to her clients, some of which she shares in her blog and weekly newsletters.

Originally from England, Zoë has lived in Seattle for 9 years with her husband, two grown-up children and a Labrador called Jordi.

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