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How to Have a Great Thanksgiving

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With Thanksgiving upon us, I've been thinking about my own love/hate relationship with this great holiday. It can be a wonderful celebration of gratitude, appreciation and family connection. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving also tends to be about feeling obligated to spend time with the people we're "supposed" to, eating too much food and feeling guilty about it, and pretending to be grateful when we're actually annoyed and stressed out.

What if we could make this Thanksgiving less stressful and more fun and actually be able to enjoy ourselves, appreciate our family and friends (even the ones who drive us nuts) and focus on what we're grateful for in a genuine way?

Here are some important tips you can use to make this year's Thanksgiving one you truly enjoy and remember (in a good way):

Be you: Instead of trying to be who you think you should be with your family, friends, in-laws or guests, just relax and be yourself! So often we put undue pressure on ourselves to be a certain way, impress people (even those we know well), or do or say the things we think others want us to. When we let go of trying to please everyone and we're able to be true to ourselves, we create a genuine sense of freedom and peace. This also means that we think about what would be fun for us and our immediate family to do for Thanksgiving and communicate this to everyone else (in-laws, extended family, etc.), even if it may upset or disappoint some of the people involved.

Look for the good: Make a commitment to focus on the things you like and appreciate about your friends and family members, instead of obsessing about the things that annoy or upset you. We almost always find what we look for in others and in situations. When we let go of past resentments, we're able to see people with new eyes. As the saying goes, "holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." Whatever we choose to do on Thanksgiving and whomever we choose to spend our holiday with, if we make a conscious decision to enjoy ourselves and to look for the good stuff in an authentic way, we dramatically increase our chances of having a positive and pleasurable experience.

Make it fun and easy: Do whatever you can for yourself and those around you to make the planning, food preparation, clean-up and the whole Thanksgiving experience as easy, fun and stress-free as possible. This means we keep it light, share the responsibilities, ask others for help and do the things that we enjoy doing, instead of burdening ourselves and feeling like a victim about it all. Too often we spend and waste our time and energy being uptight, doing things we don't truly want to do, feeling resentful towards others and creating a lot of unnecessary stress and frustration. Thanksgiving can be lots of fun if we're willing to go with the flow and make it easy on ourselves and for others.

Express your appreciation for others: One of best things we can do for other people (on Thanksgiving or at any time) is to let them know what we appreciate about them in a genuine way. Acknowledging others is a true "win-win," as we always get to keep what we give away to others when we appreciate them (i.e., the good feelings are shared by us and those we acknowledge). There are many ways we can appreciate people on Thanksgiving:

  • Write "I'm thankful for you" cards and give them out on Thanksgiving (or mail them beforehand).
  • Pick someone at the dinner table to acknowledge, and then ask them to "pay it forward" and appreciate someone else in the group; go around until everyone has been appreciated.
  • Pull people aside on Thanksgiving (or give them a call) and let them know what you appreciate about them specifically and genuinely.

Count your blessings: Remember that in the midst of all the commotion, stress and activity of the holiday season, Thanksgiving really is a time for us to reflect on what we're grateful for in life, about others and especially about ourselves. Take some time on Thanksgiving to focus on what you're grateful for, the many blessings in your life, and the things you appreciate about yourself. A great way for us to remember and to celebrate the many blessings in our life, especially on Thanksgiving, is to take some time during our meal and allow each person at the table to talk about what they're grateful for in a genuine, specific, and personal way.

This year, especially given all that has been going on in the world, the economy, and our personal lives, let's challenge ourselves to make Thanksgiving more than just something we get through; let's have it be a time of reflection, connection and a celebration of the great fullness of life.

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