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The Most Important Factor for a Pleasant Family Holiday Celebration


21Dec 2011

As we all approach the Christmas holiday weekend, many people’s anxiety level is rising.  Why?  Because we are starting to think about the upcoming visit with our family.  You may be going to your parents’ home (or your in-laws’) or family members are coming to your home, or you may gather at one of your (or your spouse’s) siblings homes.  Regardless of the specifics, it means — you are going to have to spend time with your family (and yes, possibly even interact with them!)

So, being the good psychologist I am, I thought I would address the most important factor for having a pleasant family gathering:  YOU.  Yes, your experience this coming weekend and the following week is most influenced (both positively and negatively) by you.  It is not your mom, your dad, your stepfather, your sister, your brother-in-law, their out-of-control kids, or your crazy aunt.  You, more than any other person, will have the most impact on your experience with the rest of the family.  Let’s see how.

Let me suggest the following actions and thought patterns, and let’s see what happens.

To dramatically increase the probability of you having a positive experience with your family over the holidays, do the following:

  • Look for the good.  See what is going right, what looks beautiful, what smells delicious, who got there on time.  Enjoy the food you eat.  Notice the pretty clothes someone is wearing and compliment them on it.
  • Be gracious.  Graciousness is the opposite of being condemning and judgmental.  Relax, give others some ‘slack’.  Monitor and cut back on the number of “should’s” and “shouldn’ts” going on in your head.  Accept people for who they are and the deficits they have.
  • Don’t be easily offended.  Unless I’m mistaken, neither you nor I are the center of the celebration and gathering.  The event wasn’t created or designed to meet our every desire.   There is a very high probability that some things won’t go like you want them to — you will have to go to the family gathering even though you don’t want to, you won’t get to watch what you want on TV, you will have to sit by someone you don’t really want to,  there won’t be wireless at your grandparents house.
  • Be patient.  Don’t let others’ tardiness bug you.  Enjoy the waiting time; use it to sit, rest and relax.  Go get some quiet time by yourself before everyone else arrives OR go talk to and spend time with someone you don’t get to very often.  Believe it or not, you actually can’t make time go more quickly, so you might as well and enjoy the time there.
  • Overlook potential slights.  If you are not treated well by someone (they snap at you, they criticize you, they ignore you), let it go.  Attribute it to them being stressed out and realize it really has little to do with you.  Or, even if it is a common behavior for them, don’t let their problems ruin your day.
  • Don’t criticize others (either out loud or in your head – it shows on your face.)  A negative judgment of others rarely leads to a pleasant experience for anyone.  Think about it.  When was the last time you were critical of others and happy at the same time?
  • Be thankful.  Be thankful you live in a country without war.  Be thankful for a warm house, running water, electricity 24 hrs a day, paved roads, food to eat, refrigeration, indoor plumbing.
  • Bonus items:  Here are a few ‘bonus’ suggestions that can really make your time “almost fun”!
    • Look for opportunities to serve someone.
    • Listen to those who need to talk.
    • Reach out to someone who looks lonely.
    • I dare you to initiate doing something with someone from another generation (parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, nieces/ nephews).
    • Smell the smells.
    • Take time to fully taste the food.
    • Be in awe of the beauty surrounding you.

If you follow these suggestions, I know it will increase the probability of you not having a “terrible time” with your family, and I’ll be surprised if you don’t actually find some pleasure in the time.  (Let me know!)

Have a great Christmas with your family!

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