Gratitude, Family and Holidays

November 23rd, 2010

This is the time of year when Americans and Canadians prepare to give thanks and people everywhere plan for various holiday festivities. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. High hopes and sometimes deep letdown. Well planned meals, and poorly planned intentions. Fond memories, and deep grief. The holiday season is a great time to recommit to your highest aspirations and celebrate in grand style. Don’t just survive the holidays. Dive in with an open heart and thrive. This can be a time of enormous gratitude, even through the ups and downs of family and holidays.

In a thanksgiving episode of The Simpsons, Homer says grace before their meal, “I give thanks for the occasional moments of peace and love our family has experienced . . . well, not today. You saw what happened. O, Lord, be honest! Are we the most pathetic family in the universe or what?”

At least he’s honest. Most families have days like that or even years like that. When holidays such as Thanksgiving put families together for a couple of hours or a couple of days, it can be explosive. These are some of the people you know most intimately, and yet feelings are often raw. Ancient family rivalries and unresolved tensions are often triggered by flippant comments.

You walk in to your parent’s home and your Mom says, “You’re wearing that!?!” Even though you’re 45, you instantly feel 15.

Conversation moves to the weather, which you think is safe enough until your conservative uncle starts in about “global warming conspiracy theories.” and “gullible liberals”. You roll your eyes and change the subject.

Your brother announces that he and his wife are “doing things differently this year” for Thanksgiving dinner: all vegan. Your old school grandfather mutters under his breath, “Commies!” You smile and pretend your phone’s ringing.

Maybe you had high hopes for previous holiday occasions that fell short of your expectations. Previous disappointment leaves you feeling wary of what might happen this year. Allow gratitude to surprise you. Let new depths of appreciation fill your days and open your heart to loving connections. Gratitude is the host to so much possibility. Gratitude’s guests include optimism, generosity and kindness. Her relatives include abundance, joy and contentment. Gratitude prepares a gourmet feast of joy and goodwill.

Start by expressing gratitude with the trimming of life (the obvious blessings) and let gratitude build momentum and become a habit that stretches to include less obvious blessings. Thoughts are like families that gather together and birds that flock together- gratitude infiltrates other thoughts and spreads its cheer. Give thanks for the day off work, the good food and the afternoon nap. Give thanks for TV sports, smooth travelling and fond memories. Give thanks for fresh starts, yet more fresh starts, constant fresh starts, no matter how scarred the relationship. Give thanks for the ability to choose your response to people who push your buttons and give thanks for the satisfying silence of letting things go.

Some of the biggest barriers to gratitude include assumptions and unrealistic expectations. This holiday season doesn’t have to be like previous holiday seasons. People change. You have changed. You have new inner strength that greets each moment with optimism.

Gratitude isn’t forced or contrived. You don’t need to pretend there is a silver lining in difficult situations. Think of gratitude as the silver lining itself. Gratitude shines a light on your awareness in the same way that the sun creates a silver line at the edge of a cloud. It is your ability to choose to shift your perspective. Be grateful for awareness and your ability to choose your thoughts and words. Be grateful for variety and the surprising teachers in your life. Be grateful for the humility of being brought back to earth, even with a thud and knowing that it has made you stronger. You can get up, dust yourself off and try again and this is the greatest blessing of all. Be grateful even for the ability to be grateful.

Here are three “P”s for a grateful holiday season- Prepare, Pause and Perspective.

Prepare- Spend as much energy being mentally and emotionally prepared for the holidays as you do on logistics and shopping. Make sure it’s your highest self that turns up on Turkey Day.

Pause- When you feel a situation triggering judgment or hurt in you, buy yourself some time. Pause and check in with your highest self before responding, if you need to respond at all.

Perspective- When a situation is beyond your control, choose your response and give thanks for the ability to shift your perspective.

Think of gratitude as a sunlit opening in a winter’s sky. You are seeing the holidays and your family in a bright light. The more focus you place on the new possibility that surrounds you, the brighter your mood will be. As winter sun parts a grey November sky like morning curtains, so your positive attitude will reveal the increasing wonder and goodness that fills your life. Stretch your gratitude before the open curtains of your mind. The view is awesome. Life is good. Happy Holidays.

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  1. Harry MacLean says:

    Peace to all. Great article, but right now we Canadians aren’t preparing to give thanks. We already did so on Canadian Thanksgiving Day which is always the second Monday in October, this year Monday, October 11. Just one of the many ways that Canadians and Americans do things a little bit differently!

  2. ian says:

    I apologize Harry. Put that down to an overzealous Aussie trying to be inclusive and getting my facts wrong.
    Thanks for writing

  3. amy says:

    Thanks for this insightful article! Extended family gatherings are a challenge-and I can relate to the above instances where seemingly innocent words can ignite the hostilities in others.  Attaining peace and harmony may not be realistic-but I have found that I can try and not fuel the fire by arguing/confronting others’ who are rigid/unyielding in their mindsets. I cannot change others, but may influence through example and maintaining a peaceful disposition. Meditating before, during, and after(!) these gatherings can be useful-and it allows a spirit of  serenity to inhabit my soul.