By Mary Reitano
As fall holidays approach, many people look forward to time with loved ones, and special traditions and foods. Holidays can be joyous. But for some, holidays bring on “the blues,” due to unmet expectations. Or, family dysfunction causes tension. Holidays can trigger fresh grief over deceased loved ones, not present to celebrate. Planning ahead reduces the negative aspects of holidays. Positive Psychology, originated by Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania), emphasizes healthy qualities that help people flourish and reinforces positive experiences and emotions to enhance physical health and emotional strength. Traits like wisdom, flexibility, acceptance, and gratitude increase holiday enjoyment. These four “gifts” cost nothing, but pay great dividends.
The Gift of Wisdom
Plan Realistically: Graciously saying “no” to some things conserves energy to fully enjoy others. Holiday arguments arise over who to spend time with, the budget for gifts, and which events to attend. Compromising reduces stress. Divorce, remarriage and blended families complicate holiday schedules. Joint custody means children or grandchildren may not be present at some holidays. Celebrating before or after holidays includes more family members.
Simplify: Holidays require extra preparations. But, expecting “perfection” causes frustration, whether related to food, gift-giving or keeping everyone happy. Choose to simplify. Some families pick names for holiday gifts to reduce expense and time shopping. Plan “down time” like watching a holiday movie or going for a walk. Have simple meals like soup or pizza. When anxious or exhausted, holidays are less enjoyable.
The Gift of Flexibility
Manage grief proactively: There is no timeline for grief. Holidays trigger fresh grief, even years later. Some try to avoid sadness by not discussing a deceased loved one, but grieve privately. Discuss in advance how to commemorate them with new rituals, such as lighting a candle in their honor or hanging an ornament with a loved one’s name or photo. Discuss who will assume roles the missing person did, like carving the turkey. Some family members fear their loved one will be forgotten–sharing happy memories can help. Tears can be mixed with joy at holidays. But, everyone grieves differently. If family resists discussing grief, and you need to, talk to a friend or counselor.
Manage schedule changes: Holidays disrupt routines–eating, drinking, sleeping and exercise. This negatively affects moods. Reduce the impact with short workouts or walks. If celebrations extend bedtimes, sneak in a nap. Enjoy holiday foods and beverages in moderation.
The Gift of Acceptance
Accept differences: Family members disagree on many issues. To create happy memories, holiday gathering are not the time to revisit controversies. Families who accept differences and “disagree agreeably” will reduce stress. Differences can be addressed privately at another time.
The Gift of Gratitude
Accentuate positives: Gratitude is often emphasized at Thanksgiving. Most people can find something to be thankful for concerning any event or family member.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”
Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate with four years of experience, including a special focus on positive psychology and a holistic approach that addresses emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health.