Harvest Moon Community & Gratitude: an Antidote

Often, world events come up in conversation with patients in the treatment room. As I see it, when shocking events happen, it has a profound effect on our collective minds and bodies. It can stir up symptoms like insomnia, or indigestion or it can amplify difficult emotions that we are already struggling with personally.

I welcome these conversations with patients, as it is so much a part of their current physical and mental landscapes. However, I am reluctant to leave people needled on the treatment table with restless thoughts of calamity. One wise patient shared that for her, these devastating events remind her that you never know what can happen, so she appreciates remembering what really matters in life. She then spoke about her plans for the long weekend, and how much she looked forward to taking rest and gathering with loved ones for Thanksgiving. When I asked my other patients what they were up to this long weekend, most everyone answered that they were going to do the same.

I am also grateful for yesterday’s Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, in Vietnam called Tet Trung Thu, as well as Thanksgiving this long weekend. Like Thanksgiving, Tet Trung Thu is about gathering in honour of the bright and round harvest moon, representing completion and reunion with friends and family. It’s about giving thanks for this fullness, for the harvest and for harmonious unions.

I have been reading ‘The Telomere Effect’, written by a molecular biologist and a psychiatric researcher. It is a collaboration explaining how stress reduction and promotion of mental health can positively affect the length of telomeres and improve health and longevity.

Telomeres are protective cap-like structures at the end of each of our chromosomes. They play a critical role in cellular health, as the DNA in telomeres protects against chromosomal damage. Being in good health is associated with having longer telomeres, whereas shorter ones are associated with having health issues. Studies indicate that our positive habits and social environment can encourage telomere growth.

The book explains that in early tribal days, we lived in groups and each group had a delegation of trusted members who would stay up on watch during the night. The community relied on them to stay awake and alert to dangers like fires, predators or enemies. Belonging to a group and having trustworthy night-watch people was critical for survival and a healthy sense of safety.

Today, our brains are still wired to need the security of someone who ‘has our back’. Social connection is a basic human need and studies reveal that having good friends is like having good night watchmen, and even protects our telomeres.

Studies also confirm that practicing gratitude and keeping a gratitude journal increases happiness and physical health

I received an email from a patient last week, who was deep in the shock and grief of miscarriage. She described that she ‘felt empty and that her heart hurt with profound sadness, yet she also felt thankful for the little things….knowing that implantation and pregnancy are possible, hearing a heartbeat, if only for just a minute, and for having a great team assisting her and her partner through this.’

I was so touched by her ability to hold all the pieces of this traumatic experience at once and how she was able to access gratitude amidst the jumble of emotions moving through her. I find myself so inspired by her example.

So I am grateful for the Thanksgiving and Tet Trung Thu traditions this week, with their rituals, programmed with reminders of the gift of community and loved ones, and giving thanks for all of the conditions of happiness and security that I already have. It feels like an antidote to the heaviness of the news these days.

Happy thanksgiving friends, may we all take refuge in one another and remember to feel deeply grateful for all that we are blessed with, and for the moments that we share.

Dr. Alda Ngo

Alda Ngo