Using Thanksgiving as a gratitude practice
The question: How can my family enjoy Thanksgiving without everyone getting at each other’s throats?
Your question recalls the famous line from Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” For family members in the latter category, and those somewhere in between, the most thankful aspect of Thanksgiving can be the moment they leave the table.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. While you can’t control your family, you can change your attitude. My suggestion: redeem the “thanks” in Thanksgiving by turning the holiday into a gratitude practice.
As touted by Oprah, a gratitude practice is akin to counting one’s blessings. While passing the turkey, observe all the things you might otherwise take for granted: an abundance of food, a heated home, a day off from work and relatives who care enough to invite you, or come, to dinner. If anything, Hurricane Sandy teaches us to appreciate loved ones and home comforts.
And here’s a trick for those particular family members who push your buttons. Consider why they get your goose, and practice being grateful for an opportunity to grow as a person. Families can be fertile ground for cultivating such virtues as compassion, tolerance and coping skills. For example:
For relatives who pick on you: Practice confidence. Considering all the reasons why you should feel good about yourself will toughen your skin to insults. When necessary, stand up for yourself in a firm manner by owning your feelings and asking for what you want. You can say, “Please don’t insult me. It hurts my feelings, and I’d really like a peaceful meal.”
For relatives who irritate you: Practice patience, tolerance and compassion. Remember, you may irritate them just as easily, so think about how you’d like to be treated. If you can be patient with family, you can be patient will almost anyone.
For relatives who boss you around: Practice standing your ground in a kind, respectful way. For example: “Dad, while I appreciate your wanting to help, there are many ways to carve a turkey and I prefer to do it my way.”
By assuming an attitude of gratitude, you improve your chances of walking out the door will both a stuffed belly and a full heart.
— Kim Schneiderman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and former journalist with a private
practice in New York City. This column is not intended to be used as a substitute for a private consultation with a mental health professional, nor is this therapist to be held liable for any actions taken as a result of this column. If you have any concerns related to the content of this column, please make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. E-mail Kim your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.