Many of us hold in our hearts the desire for, or perhaps even the memory of, a Thanksgiving gathering joyfully sharing a feast of plenty with family and friends where everyone is happy like in the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving image entitled, “Freedom from Want.” Unfortunately, reality often fails to measure up to this ideal. Some of us find ourselves dreading a family holiday gathering where we anticipate being miserably caught in a reenactment of the dysfunctions of our childhood family gatherings. Others, yearning to be with familiar faces and traditions, find themselves adrift far from home either alone or as a guest, perhaps feelings like an outsider, at someone else’s table with unfamiliar traditions.
If you anticipate a Thanksgiving that will fall short of your desires, you are sure to have that experience. This is especially true if your imaginings are focused on the menu and who will or will not be there. If, on the other hand, you focus on the spirit of thanksgiving, which is about being grateful then your focus turns inward to where you have a choice about how you experience whatever your holiday circumstances might be.
What I am suggesting here isn’t a Pollyanna approach, but rather a radical form of gratitude that just might give you a whole new and delightful experience as a powerful creator of your own experience and not the victim of circumstances or the behaviors of others. Be patient. This is a process not a one time fix it solution.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you are spending Thanksgiving with your family and dreading all their questions and judgments about what you are doing with your life because you know your truth will never garner their approval. How have you handled this in the past? Perhaps by creating your best spin on what’s going on with you in advance, or maybe by drinking too much, or physically and/or emotionally isolating yourself, or getting angry, or some other creative attempt to protect yourself from having to feel the pain of their disapproval. What if, instead of dreading their disapproval, you welcomed it as an opportunity to heal the part of you that somehow buys into their disapproval? Think of it as a tug of war that you have the power to dissolve by releasing the tension on your end of the rope.
The key to this approach is to change your own point of view on the situation. Instead of thinking they are wrong and you are being picked on, consider the possibility that this experience is absolutely perfect for you to learn some importantly needed lesson in your life. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to let them have their disapproval of you while being emotionally free of their opinions? How sweet would that be!
What I am proposing here is not easy, but it works. Here are 6 keys to how you can use radical transformational gratitude to be at the cause rather than at the effect of your own experience in any situation.
1. Accept the situation as it is without trying to change it. Imagine that you are establishing a brand new neural pattern in your brain (which you are) so that you can view the situation in an entirely new way, which in turn will give you a different way of experiencing it. So, before gathering with your family, pay attention to your self-talk. Play a game with yourself to identify all the ways that you experience your resistance and dread.
2. Listen to your self-talk and pay attention to your feelings. Notice your expectations (thoughts, and feelings) that are based on the belief that it’s going to be the same old awful experience as in the past.
3. Make a list of all the ways you identify in Step 2. For each one, create a forgiveness statement such as the three following examples:
• I forgive myself for judging myself as the black sheep of the family.
• I forgive myself for judging myself for hating my father for being so critical of me.
• I forgive myself for judging myself for judging my family for rejecting me.
Be as specific as possible in capturing the nature of the disconnect between you and your family. Notice that what you are forgiving is any judgment that you have been creating towards yourself or others. Keep this list handy during your family visit and run these forgiveness statements through your brain whenever you get caught in the old pattern.
4. Play detective with yourself to identify your emotional hook. Ask yourself some of the following questions and create and probe some of your own questions until you find a deeply resonant ‘aha’ within you indicating that you have identified your deeper truth in this situation:
• What’s my emotional payoff in the way I have been experiencing this situation?
• What is the nature of my pain and suffering in this situation?
• What do I really want to be true here and what might I do to create, promote, and allow more of what I want without making others wrong?
With each answer you get, go deeper by asking ‘what’s underneath that?’
5. Close your eyes and do the following gratitude process. One by one, call forward each person you have held responsible for your unhappiness – including yourself. Breathe deeply into your heart and imagine that you are intentionally sending love from your heart to this other person. Looking into their eyes, say ‘My happiness is not dependent upon your approval. I love you. God bless you. Peace, be still.’
6. Assume that this situation is for you and not against you and be grateful that it has presented you with the opportunity to deepen your friendship with yourself.
Notice that the unpleasant situation that you were facing was not something ‘bad’ but rather a perfect opportunity and steppingstone for you to improve your mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Now that’s something to be grateful for!
Happy holidays, everyone.