Thanksgiving is upon us this week. And for most Americans, that means some sort of “get together” with family or friends. Some of us dread the time, while others anxiously look forward to it. Regardless of your past experiences, your plans for this year and accompanying mindset, I thought I would propose some proactive steps each of us can take to help make the holiday a positive experience — both for ourselves, as well as for those with whom we will be celebrating.
Determine what is most important to you for the holiday and make choices to make this happen. Probably one of the biggest contributors to a negative holiday experience (whether we are with others or are by ourselves) is the pattern of abdicating control over our own choices. If you want to go shopping on Friday, make plans to make it happen. If you want to take a walk and be by yourself for a while after the family meal, do so. If you want to make sure and get some quality time with a family member, talk to them ahead of time and arrange it. Be proactive versus reactive, and you are more likely to see your desires fulfilled.
Don’t try to make everyone else happy. First, you can’t. You know (and I know) people who are not going to be pleased no matter what. So quit trying to make them happy. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be kind or warm toward them; but if they are determined to be sour and complaining, smile, say “It’s good to see you again” and move to to spend time with someone more enjoyable. Secondly, there are going to be competing desires among people — some people will want to watch football, others will want everyone to play a game, and others want to leave and go home as soon as possible — not everyone’s desires will be fulfilled, and it is not your responsibility to do so.
Plan for something to go wrong. The holiday won’t be perfect — bank on it. Someone (or their child) will become ill and won’t be able to come. The oven won’t turn on when it is supposed to and the turkey won’t be ready to eat at 2 p.m. as planned. One family or family member will be exceeding late (they always are!). The rolls will get burnt. One of the younger cousins will get hurt while playing outside. Something less than perfect will happen. So, first, accept that this is the case. Realize not everything has to be perfect for people to have an enjoyable time. Second, roll with the punches — make adjustments, laugh about the rolls (and tell stories about similar incidents in past years), go ahead and eat and let the latecomers join in when they get there. Don’t let small problems ruin your holiday.
Leave some margin in your schedule. Don’t book yourself crazy solid — breakfast with your brother-in-law at 8 a.m., back home and get ready to go by 11 a.m., be at your folks’ place at noon, go to your spouse’s family (an hour away) at 4 p.m., and stay until the kids are past exhaustion. Sounds like a recipe for stress, conflict and a kid meltdown. The key is — you will have to say “no” to someone or some activity. You will probably have to say something like, “Mom, we can’t … this year.” Or, “I’d really like to …. but it is just going to be too much for us to handle.” Related to this issue of margin, don’t forget that something will go wrong and you need to have some time (or money) to handle the situation. Don’t plan your weekend based on the assumption that everything will go just as planned.
Focus on someone else and their needs. One of the best ways to enjoy life is to not focus on yourself so much. The holiday isn’t all about you and what you want. There are others — whether friends, family members or strangers — that have hurts and needs that could use a helping touch from others. Look for someone at the family gathering who seems lonely or a little down; reach out to them, show some interest and spend some time talking with them. Find someone who seems a little on the edge of the interactions (often it is a senior adult who can’t hear well, a teenager who really doesn’t want to be there, or a younger child who doesn’t have anyone their age to play with), see what they would like to do and try to make it happen by doing it with them. A little kindness towards others goes a long ways to making everyone’s holiday more enjoyable.
Take (and try to keep) a positive attitude. Hey, this isn’t World War III. This is a holiday. You (hopefully) have some time off of work or school. You are going to be able to eat some really good tasting food. There are a lot of good things in your life — safety, family, friends, health, freedom, adequate provision for your daily needs. Enjoy the time – either by yourself or with others. Smile. Laugh. Sigh. Rest.
Have a good one. I’m planning on it!