It seems like Thanksgiving has taken the lead as the most dreaded holiday of the year, and I’m not just talking about the pressure of coming up with a suitable side dish, or the hopelessness of finding a pumpkin pie at the 7-11 when you’re already forty minutes late for the big pot luck dinner. In a country sadly divided by the recent election and devastatingly ravaged by the economy as well as a horrendous tropical storm, there are some really angry people out there. Friend after friend has expressed to me the anxiety they feel to ‘come up’ with things they are thankful for, when they are all actually at the end of their respective ropes.
My friend Diana recently found out that her brother proposed to his girlfriend. This news affected her on two anger-inducing levels; her brother is younger than she is, and is now beating her to the altar (the same way he beat her to a career, and beat her to buying a house, etc.) and, according to Diana, the girl he is about to marry is one-hundred-percent wrong for him. Rubbing salt into the wound, this Thanksgiving marks the first time her family will be officially welcoming this girl into the fold, which will effectively usurp the fact that this is Diana’s first year hosting Thanksgiving for the family at her new apartment, bought and paid for with the new job of which she is so proud.
Diana is pretty pissed off.
I’m no Pollyanna; I have definitely been known to get my under-things in a bunch. But I also realize that, if Diana wants to feel good about this event, an event she was really looking forward to, she’s going to have to figure out a way to salvage the spirit of the holiday. She’s going to have to figure out how to be thankful even though she’s full of rage.
I came up with a few tips for her:
Find The Silver Lining
Before suggesting this to an angry friend, get ready to duck. People who are angry throw things when they hear the phrase ‘silver lining.’ Although this is almost certainly the last thing any angry person wants to hear, it is incredibly beneficial. Searching for the positive in a negative situation slows you down, gives you a chance to breath, and shifts your mind. In Diana’s case, I suggested that the fact that she is so choosy about the person with whom her brother ends up is an indication of her close relationship to him. It’s a reminder that she truly cares about him. Having such a close relationship with a sibling is pretty special.
Redirect That Angry Energy
I suggested to Diana that instead of toiling in the kitchen all morning before her family and THE NEW GIRL arrive, Diana should either order in or prepare as much as she can in advance so that she can go for a run on Thanksgiving morning. Burning off nervous energy can help in the same way that little earthquakes save us from the big ones. It’s a release. If Diana could get in her usual morning run, she would feel stronger, more relaxed, and more ready for the big day.
Speaking of preparing things in advance, here is a way that Diana, and anyone, can prepare to have a day of gratitude every day. Take a moment, every morning, to ponder those things in your life for which you are actually really grateful. A lot of it might be things we take for granted. Silly things, like a really good cup of coffee, or more serious things, like your child’s smile. It might seem hard to remember to do this each morning, but it can make a world of difference in your life. Come on, people, you remember to brush your teeth every morning, right? If you are good at multi-tasking, you could even ponder this gratitude while brushing your teeth. Then, you could add your skills of multi-tasking to the list of things you're grateful for.
The old cliché about stopping yourself and taking ten deep breaths is, as it turns out, pretty effective. Anger is an energy-packed emotion that often overrides the brain and the senses, leaving us to do and say things that we can’t take back and that we often don’t even mean in the first place. If you feel yourself experiencing anger or a related emotion, such as defensiveness, jealousy, or down-right rage, stop yourself and take ten deep breaths.
Work It Out
Finally, this may be the most important step. As I told Diana, Band-Aids are really helpful for a minor cut or scrape, but if you have a deep wound, as Diana clearly does in this situation, you need to pay it some serious attention. All the deep breaths and the sweet smiles in the world on Thanksgiving Day aren’t going to fix the pain that Diana is feeling inside about her brother getting married. Her best bet is to really examine the situation, figure out what makes her so angry about it, and then find some reason, and some benefit, in the situation.
Thanksgiving should be a time to experience the power of gratitude, a power that can create positive changes in your life and cure the damning tendency within so many of us, to be cynical and resentful. Yes, this is a tall order when you try to fit fourteen family members in a one bedroom, one bathroom, apartment. But that’s what Thanksgiving is all about; your extended family crammed in a small room eating together, everyone reminding themselves of all for which they are so lucky. Here, I’ll get us all started, Thanksgiving only comes once a year.
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