The trees are nearly bare of leaves, we’ve had the first snow of the year, finals are looming on the calendar and we’ve just had a Peircegiving feast. This can only mean one thing: Thanksgiving break is upon us.
Academic calendars have a rhythm. And in that rhythm, Thanksgiving break is an important beat — perhaps a beat drop? — a moment to catch our collective and individual breath and renew our energy for the push to the end of the semester. Beat drops do more than just add excitement to the music or inspire energetic dancing; studies of brain responses before and after a drop show excitement in different sections of the brain, resulting in the stimulation of positive emotions. And though I can offer no objective experimental evidence, I do believe that regardless of what you do, the break itself, the change of life pace, can be restorative.
How to make the most of this drop? Here are my Top Three Thanksgiving Beat Drops (with appropriate references to the scientific literature, of course).
- Laughter. For several years now, my Thanksgiving break has begun this way: Gather anyone from the family who is at home and watch the famed “Turkey Drop” episode (officially, “Turkeys Away”) of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” I find the climactic scene, in which news director Les Nessman gives a play-by-play of the most disastrous Thanksgiving turkey giveaway of all time, absolutely hilarious — so much so that right now, even without watching it, I am working hard to suppress laughs at my keyboard. (Inexplicably, I find the deadpan “Oh my god, they’re turkeys!” to be the funniest line ever.)
And, as an added bonus — laughter relieves stress and enhances serotonin activity.
- Tears. For the past few years in Cromwell Cottage, Thanksgiving break has ended this way: Gather anyone in the family who is at home and watch the first five minutes of “Almost Christmas.” In the time it takes to share a slice of sweet potato pie, we watch a young couple marry, start a family, grow old together, and eventually be separated by death, all with the Four Tops’ “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” playing in the background. If the WKRP episode is guaranteed to make me laugh, the “sweet potato pie” scene (as we refer to it in the Romano/Decatur house) is certain to make me choke up. (Even hearing the Four Tops song at this time of year gets me teary.) Really, it’s like a live-action version of the opening sequence of Pixar’s “Up.” If family sadness around pie recipes is not your thing, I also recommend the “Remember Me” scene from Pixar’s “Coco.”
Though counterintuitive, crying is associated with relief from stress, and sentimental entertainment may also be good for you.
- Gratitude. I’ve written about the importance of gratitude before; but it is still an essential piece of renewal during Thanksgiving break. The loss we’ve all experienced in the past two years: the deaths of friends and loved ones, the losses of rituals and traditions that give life meaning, the difficulties we have faced in our personal and professional lives, all have taken a toll.
Yet, through it all, there is still so much for which I am grateful. In the long global battle against COVID-19, scientists have produced not only vaccines that provide substantial protection against infection, hospitalization and death, but also new antiviral treatments that will help save the lives of those still threatened with serious illness. I am regularly inspired on campus by the beautiful work being produced by writers, artists and scholars, reminders of the amazing resilience of humans even amidst uncertainty and tragedy. I am grateful for all of those who have come before us, for the ancestors whose sacrifices have made our lives possible, for those who (to paraphrase James Baldwin) have bought and paid for our crowns, leaving it to us to wear them.
Be well, and happy Thanksgiving.