Emotional Health

Keeping the Peace at Thanksgiving

I try to remind my patients that if they are caught in one of these repetitive cycles with relatives, they are not entirely to blame. Two people can dig a much deeper rut than one, and even if you are trying to climb out of it, the other person may be trying to drag you back down. Furthermore, it is okay not to attend some family holidays. Breaking traditions is not only permissible, in many cases it can be constructive—helping to change some of the negative patterns that make these holidays stressful for many of us. Both the “guests” and the “host,” even if they’re family, often feel a responsibility to give people what they are expecting. It isn’t necessary, and it can help a lot if everyone agrees to “lighten up”—do less, expect less, dress it down, make it more fun and easy, so that Thanksgiving can at the very least be more relaxed.

Despite the problems that family can present, they are very important to us this time of year. Lately, it has become a challenge for many of us to get home as often as we would like to spend the holidays with our relatives, as families today increasingly live farther apart than in the past. The twin evils of the limping economy and rising travel prices have made holiday trips prohibitive—especially since the travel industry takes advantage of our wish to be on the move during holidays by charging top dollar  and blanking out frequent-flyer awards. This is just one more way that these occasions can be double edged swords for us, and rather than being opportunities for warm family reunions, can create feelings of stress and loss.

Even if it’s hard to reunite with family on Thanksgiving, there may be good reasons to celebrate it in some fashion anyway. It’s one of our only national holidays that is really inclusive, and the forces of commerce have yet to find ways to hijack it (other than, say, the cost of an organic turkey and the travel costs mentioned above). Finally, giving thanks may be good for your health. Research seems to indicate that gratitude correlates with happiness (see the work of psychologists such as Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard).

Studies have shown that people who take time out to note the things they are grateful for consistently rate themselves as happier, and those who adopt this habit find their moods improving.

So whether it’s with family, friends, friends of friends, or just doing something that feels worthwhile, remembering the spirit of this holiday. “Keeping Thanksgiving” is something to consider every day.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.