Thanksgiving is coming fast. Christmas. Hanukkah. Are you doomed to a miserable holiday if your relatives drive you crazy? What if you are just introducing your family to a serious date, someone who could be the One? Does Aunt Millie always cluck about what a shame it is that you are single or how your kids need a dad? Even if your family is a battlefield, or you are super stressed-out you can turn any holiday one of the best holidays you've ever had. Simply use my ten-step dating advice "secret sauce" for singles and single mothers that have to deal with problem relatives at the traditional family gatherings. This recipe for creating holiday joy is based on clinical experience and research evidence. Feel free to add or subtract your own condiments!
Ten Steps to Holiday Joy
1. Shock your troublesome 'bad egg' relatives into being cordial or even likeable. List three things, even small things, like hair color or crossword puzzle ability, you truly appreciate about them. Work these things into your conversation in an authentic way at the beginning of the family visit. This will tend to shock these 'bad eggs' into being 'good eggs.'
2. Use the therapist's secret. When you're facing a battleaxe relative, win by refusing to fight. Accept comments about your appearance, weight or singlehood that used to upset you with a nod and say "That's the way you see it." This really throws them and saves you from a lot of holiday stress.
3. Create a tradition of personal sharing & gratitude. Around the dinner table ask your family members to talk about their favorite memories of the holiday, especially the blessings and small miracles they experienced. Have them share what they are most thankful for on this special day. Research shows that the happiest people are the ones who regularly express gratitude for what they have.
4. Stop worrying about looking good. Maybe you've just broken up with someone whom your parents liked. You feel loser-like, vulnerable and lonely coming to the family dinner. You worry about how you are dressed, the extra pounds you've put on and various other assorted silly ideas. Realize that the way they see you doesn't really matter. Underneath whatever they say, they probably love you to pieces. So forget about looking good. Your real job is to have fun and enjoy yourself.
5. Neutralize joy-kill fighting among your kids. If you're a single mom, get all of your kids, even your youngest, into helping to prepare for the holiday. Have them set the table, decorate, slice and dice. This key piece of family relationship advice will engage the children's attention, give them something to be proud of and stop any fighting.
6. Set up a positive bond when a new boy/girlfriend comes to a holiday dinner with your family. Beforehand, tell both the family and your friend all the "good news" about each other. Introduce discussion topics both have interest in. If you are the newbie in the family, bring an incredibly thoughtful gift for the occasion, ask questions and listen a lot. Appreciate any and all good things about the meal, the house and the family members and remember to tell them what you enjoyed!
7. Give the gift of quality time. A massage, a long walk-and-talk, a romantic getaway or a family trip involve giving of yourself -- your time and attention, which is the most valuable gift of all. Remember that time is fleeting; so enjoy your family while you still can. Remember, everyone is "on loan" here. They won't be here forever.
8. Bring spirituality back into the holiday. Pray, meditate or simply spend time in nature alone or with your loved ones. This offers you 'peace on earth' that is much more fulfilling than unwrapping a hundred gifts. Make it a new family tradition but if there is resistance to the idea, let it go. Simply say, "I'll just be upstairs meditating/praying for about 15 minutes. See you soon." And say it with love. Be the change that you would like to see in your family.
9. Do three random acts of kindness every day during the holiday season. Research has shown that unselfish acts of giving where you expect nothing in return are super good for your own health and mood. And who doesn't want to have good spirits during the usually stressful holidays?
10. Set your intention for this holiday. This is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that you will cope successfully with holiday stress. You can make up your mind to have a happy holiday, no matter what your family relationships are like. Make a positive affirmation like, "This is the happiest Thanksgiving or Christmas I've ever had." Remember to use the present tense. Research has repeatedly shown the power of positive self-talk, which is what most of us call affirmations. Positive affirmations have been shown to lower stress and cortisol levels. People cope more easily when going into new social situations and are less likely to make downward social comparisons when they practice self-affirmations. Participants in one study that said self-affirmations before a new social encounter reduced their thoughts about being rejected compared with another group that focused on the party and who would be there.
As it is in other life situations like work and career, setting your intention, is the most important step. This holiday you will probably be just as happy as you decide to be. You can learn much more about the latest research on creating intentions especially in dealing with friends, frenemies and family in my new book, Love in 90 Days: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Own True Love.