Dr. Mike: 5 Tips to Make Thanksgiving a More Thankful Experience

Dr. Mike: 5 Tips to Make Thanksgiving a More Thankful Experience

Thanksgiving is a time for family and close friends to come together with gratitude.  It can also be a time for self-reflection and remembrance; and, many of us have fond childhood memories of Thanksgiving where there was always a packed table of joyful and loving family members and an abundance of delicious food.

While as a child, the Thanksgiving gathering and feast can seem so rich, cozy and even wondrous, not everyone holds dear the image of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” painting when thinking about Thanksgiving.  In fact, the holiday season can be a difficult time for a lot of folks, especially those who have experienced, or are experiencing, painful hardships — divorce, an alcoholic or emotionally unstable family member or parent, loss, financial difficulties, etc.  Here are 5 tips to help you make this year’s Thanksgiving a more thankful experience:

Create a thankful state of mind.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” and there is plenty of research to support Abe’s position that there is real power to positive thinking.  So, in preparing for your Thanksgiving, think about how you would like the experience to go.  Perhaps you could imagine or visualize yourself in relation to others and practice mentally before entering the situation.  If there’s a family member that you don’t care for very much, for example, imagine how you plan to be around that individual.

Don’t overdo it.  Temptation is usually around every corner at most Thanksgiving gatherings, but you don’t need to overindulge to have a good time.  So, why not attempt to make this year’s Thanksgiving meal a practice in moderation and mindfulness?  If you drink alcohol, enjoy some wine with your meal, but don’t drink 5 glasses!  You also don’t need to fill and refill your plate until you are stuffed.  Rather, listen to your body when eating and drinking, and it will tell you when it is satisfied and nourished.  Not giving into your temptations isn’t an easy thing to do, but it can be beneficial.  So, before reaching for that second or third piece of pumpkin pie or more alcohol, stop and try to become aware of your feelings; what’s the emotional part of you in that moment that wants to over consume and what can you do instead to take care of yourself.

Stay away from drama and potentially upsetting topics.  The Thanksgiving gathering is not a good time to make painful announcements (e.g., that you lost your job or that your are getting a divorce) since your problems would likely only burden your loved ones during a festive time.  They also say that politics, religion, and money are the top three topics to stay away from during social gatherings, and Thanksgiving isn’t an exception.  From politics, to sex scandals, terrorism or kneeling vs. standing for the National Anthem, there’s no dearth of hot topics to debate these days.  But keep in mind though that not everyone in life (or even in your family) will share your particular opinions or views on these sorts of sensitive topics.  Discussing sensitive topics with others at gatherings could offend or upset folks, so I recommend staying away altogether from making things unpleasant.  Instead of debating controversial topics, show an interest in others and listen.  If your 8-year-old nephew is into Pokémon, talk about Pokémon.  If your sister just moved, talk about her new house.  If someone at the table just got a promotion, talk about that. The Dalai Lama once wisely said, “When you talk, you are repeating what you already know.  But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

Try on a new tradition.  In addition to being a time of self-reflection and remembrance, Thanksgiving can also be a time for renewal — in our bonds with others and within ourselves personally.  So, perhaps you could come up with some new ideas or traditions for your family and yourself this Thanksgiving.  Running a 5K, breaking the turkey’s wishbone, watching the New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, volunteering, enjoying arts and crafts with the children, or watching a classic holiday movie (e.g., ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’).

Turn off your cell phone and your devices.  It’s one thing to watch the New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together as a family, but it’s rude to be looking at your phone when celebrating in the presence of others.  There will be plenty of time later to check out Facebook or CNN or Fox News, so put your device down and stay in the moment and connect with the folks around you.

This Thanksgiving is yours to experience however you choose, and while you can’t control others, you do have control over how you manage your feelings and yourself.  If your Thanksgivings from childhood were bad, know that you’re no longer that child in that house anymore, and know too that you don’t have to repeat old patterns now as an adult.  And if you’re being challenged by a serious problem at present, then try to be thankful for all that you do have and give yourself permission to have an enjoyable and positive Thanksgiving.