How To Survive Thanksgiving

Let’s do this gratitude thing.

How to Survive Thanksgiving


photo courtesy of Jeff Wasserman

filed under Advice, Fighting

  1. While stuck on the highway or at the airport, remind yourself that the fourth Wednesday in November is the busiest travel day of the year. Busier than December 23 or July 4 or New Year’s Eve. Consider how everyone around you was willing to pack suitcases and cars and submit themselves to stalled traffic and long lines and crushed middle seats, just to sit down at a table and have one big meal with their kin, the way humans used to do.
  2. When you greet your relatives, do it consciously, especially anyone who tends to annoy you or make you tense. If you normally hug, keep your hand on their back a second longer. If you’re not huggers, touch their arm and say, “It’s good to see you.” If touching is not your thing at all, look them in the eye and smile. Start the interaction off with one small moment of reaching out in kindness.
  3. Don’t know what to do with yourself? Offer to help: haul the groceries, chop the carrots, hold the baby, set the table. Even if the meal is run by a Type A OCD host(ess) who’d never let you into the kitchen, say, “I’d love to help. Can I do anything at all?” Do this especially if you are (a) a young adult who’s used to letting the older relatives run the show or (b) a male.
  4. Your nervous system, which spends most of its time in its own house, car, office with its own routines and smartphone and TV, might be buzzing at the sight and sound of all these relatives, some of whom have helped forge its neural pathways to begin with. This isn’t an emergency that demands shots of whiskey or wads of snacks. You are not in danger. Sip a glass of water. Feel on your feet pressing against the ground. Go outside for a few minutes of fresh air. Run some warm water over your hands. You are a self-contained person who is here because you’ve chosen to be. Your nervous system will regulate within hours of leaving. Go back inside. Look around at all your relatives, whose systems are also abuzz. Just think: No matter how they’re behaving, on some level they’re likely as nervous as you.
  5. Try not to overeat or overdrink. Do this not by limiting or counting, but by slowing down your movements as much as possible, and by breathing and remembering that oxygen can do as much to energize and relax you as other potent substances.
  6. Move. Suggest a walk or a game. If there’s a baby, snag it. If there are kids around, engage with them. This may be your only chance all year to get a bunch of kids away from their phones into some kind of activity. Like it or not, you are a role model whose behavior they’ll remember in the years to come.
  7. Politics. If someone in your family is on the other side of America’s Great Political Divide and insists on going there, you have so many choices. You can abstain and use these minutes for building crucial muscles of mental discipline and self-control. You can gently change the subject. You can say, “Okay Uncle Jim, you’re a Republican and I’m Democrat, but I’ll bet there are a few key things we agree on, right?” You can say, “I think Trump is a demented narcissist, I think you watch too much Fox News, and I think I’m a coastal elitist social justice warrior who lives in a bubble and sees everyone’s blind spots but my own. Pass the potatoes please.”
  8. Do you have a spiritual practice such as certain Buddhist mantras, or Hindu chants, or Christian or Jewish or Muslim prayers, or mindfulness meditation? Cool. Practice these in short silent snippets at the table. A simple practice is to focus on a person and silently say, “May they be free of suffering. May they be at peace.” Better yet, take in the whole table and say: “May we be free of suffering. May we be at peace.” The idea of your crazy family of origin being completely free of suffering may seem ludicrous, but take heart: The more they are suffering, the more powerfully you’ll feel the effect of this practice.
  9. Look at all that food. No really. Look at it. Look at the roof above your head and the water that ran from the tap and the walls of the house that haven’t been swept away by a wildfire or a hurricane. Look at your relatives who are using their hands and walking on their legs. Think of the hundreds of thousands of people right now who enjoy none of these luxuries. Tell yourself you’ll take one small step to help those less fortunate than you in the coming year, and that putting your energy into this will yield much better results than trying to talk politics with Uncle Jim.
  10. Help clean up. Thank the person who hosted the meal. Get back in traffic knowing that today, you did your best to not add any more suffering to a suffering world.

Robin Rinaldi is Together’s managing editor and author of The Wild Oats Project.

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