The holidays are upon us again, the time when everyone expects to live in a Hallmark movie but often finds themselves in a Halloween horror film instead. It all begins with Thanksgiving, a holiday most associated with abundant food and joyful families. For me as a psychiatrist this begins one of my busiest times of year. Why?
- If your family has problems the rest of the year (and most all families do) they will only be exacerbated when everyone gets together with unrealistic expectations.
- Add relatives you only see a couple times a year with their family problems.
- Mix this with too much food, often with too much alcohol and the disaster begins.
Who hasn’t experienced a family altercation on Thanksgiving? Not many people who relate their experiences to me. Is there anything can you do to help insure a calm Thanksgiving?
First, remember what this holiday is about: giving thanks. Most of us have many things to be grateful for such as a roof over our heads, heat, light, food, company, education, freedom, the beauty of life and of nature.
Second, use moderation. Keep expectations realistic. Don’t try to fulfill everyone’s holiday tradition and fantasy. Let the person in the family who really likes the holiday be the one to plan it and have everyone else agree to follow this person’s lead and help as they are asked.
Third, steer away from topics you know are likely to cause dissension. In today’s world, politics can be very explosive and there are many other topics with strongly held emotionally charged opinions. Thanksgiving is not the time to debate them.
Fourth, don’t expect other people to make themselves uncomfortable trying to fulfill your fantasy. This especially holds true for parents’ of newly coupled children. Most people cannot enthusiastically eat two or more Thanksgiving dinners at locations hours away from each other. But perhaps Thanksgiving can happen on more than one day, and it doesn’t always require the traditional feast.
Fifth, try not to let your feelings be hurt if things don’t turn out the way you expected them to. The only person you can change is yourself. It is not reasonable to expect other people to act as other than who they are. The greatest predictor of current human behavior is past human behavior.
Remember we all have the capacity to be reasonably happy right here and now if we are living in the present moment. It is the dead past and the imagined future that keep us from happiness now.
Ease up on yourself, your children, your relatives and have a happy day of giving thanks