Hungry for Home? New “Gratitude” Study May Explain Why
By: Cherise Leclerc
Students studying with International Studies Abroad in Barcelona, Spain were interviewed and polled about the significant day they missed most during their four-month to one year stays abroad.
The overwhelming response: Thanksgiving.
AAA is predicting 42.2 million Americans will travel across the country, stand in long lines at the airport, pay ever-increasing travel fares, and spend hours in the kitchen all for that one special day we Americans call Thanksgiving.
According to the Institute of International Education, approximately 260,000 students study abroad each year. For these students, Thanksgiving will be substituted by their own makeshift meals of local ingredients or even meals being prepared by host families.
While groups such as ISA can prove beneficial to the integration of students to a new culture, they cannot duplicate the feelings that surround Thanksgiving.
“Even though my study abroad organization tried to recreate Thanksgiving, I missed the Thanksgiving that I've come to expect with my family after all these years,” said John Idzakovich, one of the students who studied in Barcelona with ISA during the holiday season.
For many, Thanksgiving is the gateway into the holiday season and elicits strong sentimental values.
“It's my favorite holiday and the beginning of the holiday season. It's just nice because the whole family gets together to celebrate and be with another. Plus, no gifts necessary,” said Katie Weissman, another student with ISA.
The students that studied with ISA were provided with a Thanksgiving meal at a popular local restaurant that tried to recreate the comfort foods that have long been associated with the holiday; including turkey, mashed potatoes, and even pumpkin pie for dessert.
“It is a time that is meant to be spent with the family and it is a unique holiday to America, so while it was amazing that ISA tried to recreate it, it just wasn't quite the same,” said Patrice Miller.
Often times when students are living abroad, they rely on each other for emotional support through homesickness, money worries, and basic support. For holidays such as Thanksgiving, this fact remains the same.
“Most college students are going to be on the same page with celebrating Thanksgiving and the holidays in general, so it adds to the sentimental nature of the events because all of your peers are looking forward to them as well,” said Andrew Spirito, a student studying through ISA in Barcelona.
Why is it that these young Americans, and millions of others, crave family and love on this day each year?
A study on “Gratitude and Thankfulness” by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, suggests that the act of being thankful can increase our spirits the whole year round, not just on this one particular day.
During their study on gratitude, the two psychologists reported that “Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated...and they are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.”
Dr. Emmons who is also the author of “Thanks!” writes in his book, “Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits.” Emmons reports higher levels of “Joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism,” in his findings. Interestingly, many of these emotions can be attributed to the feelings many of the ISA students and millions of other Americans experience during the holiday season.
During this special day and time each year, American hearts are usually filled with sentimental memories and a jovial feeling that lingers throughout family get-togethers and parties. These feelings of gratitude and thankfulness seem to reach no higher level than they do at Thanksgiving when Americans are surrounded by the people they love, taking time off from work, and savoring the many traditional Thanksgiving foods.
When Americans put on the pounds chowing down on the approximately 45 million turkeys that will be consumed this year, and saying “Thank goodness for Aunt Edna's homemade pumpkin pie” at least they will be partaking in a nearly 400 year old tradition and perhaps even benefiting their emotional health as well.