Many families are reuniting for the first time in two years. Here are a few tips to help you and your family keep the peace and make the most of the holiday.
"A family member's critical barb or resentful behavior is not always an expression of contempt and rejection. Quite the opposite: It's often a bid for connection," says Emily Esfahani-Smith. Passive aggressive or annoying behavior is sometimes a strategy, albeit a misguided one, to get attention. Instead of getting irritated, be generous in spirit, assume good faith, and change the subject. Those classic arguments are often about something much deeper—a yearning for love, connection, and belonging.
Volunteering and doing things for others, rather than focusing on ourselves, is one of the best antidotes for stress. Studies also show that helping out expands our sense of time. When we're other-focused we experience a time feast instead of a time famine. I am on the board of Citymeals-on-Wheels, a great organization that delivers nutritious meals to New York's homebound elderly population. They can always use a helping hand.
Think of someone who has helped you navigate the pandemic and write them a note telling them how you feel. According to research, we keep gratitude to ourselves for a number of reasons including wrongly assuming that the other person knows how grateful we are, underestimating how good the expression of gratitude will make them feel, and worrying too much about finding the right words to express ourselves. These miscalculations deprive us and others from making a positive social connection. A hand-written card speaks volumes about how much you care.
Reach out to someone who may be on their own this Thanksgiving. Don't assume everyone has plans. Extending an invitation and including them in your tradition will make the meal merrier. As studies show, food and wine taste better when shared.
Family-induced stress can trigger cravings. Polishing off a pumpkin pie can go from tempting to irresistible after an argument with an opinionated cousin. Instead of heading for the refrigerator, go for a 15-minute walk.
King Arthur was right. If you would like to keep the peace, a circular table is best. People seated at a round table—as opposed to a rectangular or square one—get along better and are less likely to bicker.
Instead of worrying about making small talk, go deep instead. Studies show that people prefer meaningful conversation to chitchat about the weather. Plus, deep talk will help you veer the conversation away from the minefield of politics. You can also find a gold mine of conversation ideas at The Family Dinner Project, such as:
"If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you bring?"
"If you could choose any school to graduate from, which would you choose and and why?"
"What is the one thing you couldn't live without?"
Just the sight of a phone—yours or someone else's—is enough to undermine the quality of a conversation. Putting your phone away when you are in the company of others is not anti-technology. Think of it as being pro-conversation instead.
Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.