Updated: Feb 10, 2019
As the holidays roll around, I notice my clients start to voice some dread. Anticipation is a nicer word. They dread/anticipate hosting certain family members. They dread/anticipate the work involved in serving multiple, fancy meals around which people have ridiculous expectations. They dread/anticipate trying to connect with relatives who have either disappointed or disrespected them in past gatherings. So, what to do about all this dread/anticipation?
1)Fill your bucket to the best of your ability during these weeks of over-exposure to relatives. If you usually work out twice a week, plan to work out four times a week. If you usually meditate three mornings a week, plan to meditate daily. If you usually get six hours of sleep, plan to get eight hours of sleep. These are the variables you can control, so control them.
2)Remind yourself that this period of time is brief and then it will come to an end. It is not your “normal” life. It is a brief dip into either who you are/were and how you felt/how you were regarded in your family of origin. Therein lies the rub. Most of us have grown up, matured, evolved into a better version of our former selves. Oftentimes, our relatives and even our own parents are not very familiar with this improved, updated 2.0 version of us. This leaves us straddled uncomfortably between then and now. But remember that you’re only visiting this awkward terrain briefly and then everyone will return to their “normal” lives again.
3)Remember that the fastest way to feel better is to serve others. Always. So figure out how you might do a favor or a chore for one of your relatives during this busy Thanksgiving week. Extend your services to your frail aunt or your finicky grandmother. Surprise them with a specific, genuine compliment. Or offer to do a task, such as picking up a few bags of ice or sweeping out the garage. Both you and your relative will feel better when this gesture is completed. Stepping outside of ourselves and dipping a toe into what might make someone else’s day better can help relieve feelings of bitterness or resentment even briefly.
4)Ask specific questions of someone with whom you barely share a connection. Target one member of your extended family, approach them at the right moment, and fire away. Ask them questions in the spirit of coming to know them more genuinely. Are they a reader? If so, do they have any books to recommend? Do they like to cook? If so, what are their favorites? Do they ski? If so, favorite locations? Plan to know them more deeply for having sought them out one-on-one. That bit of depth will forever make things slightly more comfortable between the two of you. Research tells us that the greatest predictor of overall happiness and longevity are the quality and quantity of authentic connections in our lives.
Enjoy your time together.
I'm grateful to know each one of you.