11/05/2014 04:01 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2015

The Perfectly Imperfect Thanksgiving

It's a day to get together with the whole family and relax. A chance to put the demands of life on hold and reflect on all there is to be thankful for. And eat your body weight in pie. So how come the task of hosting Thanksgiving turns so many people into nervous wrecks? The intentions are all good: to serve a delicious meal, in a warm and inviting home, where everyone is happy and chatting and laughing together in harmony. Yet by sundown, a day that was supposed to be about celebrating and sharing the good things in life has sometimes ended not in a blissed-out state of gratitude and turkey coma but in frazzled exhaustion.

There is so much meaning attached to the holidays, so many expectations. A visitor from another planet walking through a mall or watching ads at the holidays could be forgiven for thinking that here on Earth there is a finite amount of love and gratitude, and that by law it must all be expressed on these few days of the year. It's almost a setup for disappointment, because no matter how hard we try to make a special day perfect for the people in our lives, our symbols of love and gratitude will always be just that: symbols.

Don't get me wrong -- I love celebrating and treating my family and friends on special days. But the real roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done kind of love and gratitude happens 365 days a year. It doesn't wait for the holidays. It happens while we're doing the laundry, driving our kids to sports, making dinner after a day at work. Every single day we have the opportunity to see all the wonderful things and people we have in our lives. We can show our appreciation and gratitude to them any time -- we don't have to try to pour it all into a couple of days a year.

When I was young, I was so preoccupied by the idea that the special days of the year -- holidays, birthdays, anniversaries -- had to be perfect that I ended up blowing some of them completely. I got so stressed out trying to make sure that everything was just right that it ended up being no fun for me (and maybe anyone else, for that matter). So when I got married, I decided that I would do things differently. On my wedding day, I chose to focus not on making sure that every little detail was perfect but on being thankful for everything I had.

We had planned an outdoor ceremony, and it was a very windy day. You know something's really up when even the chauffeur driving you to your wedding has an opinion: he asked me what I was going to do now that the wind had turned my special day into a disaster. But I said everything was going to be okay, because I loved my husband-to-be, and I knew the little details would all work themselves out.

And you know what? They did. I made a point of smiling and making eye contact with everyone that day, and not worrying about my lipstick. And in the photos, I look radiant, because on this joy-filled day I was calm. I was thinking of everything I had to be grateful for, rather than thinking about small details that didn't go exactly how they were meant to. I've since divorced, but I have two wonderful children from that marriage and a positive relationship with my ex-husband and his new wife, and I'm very grateful for that.

The big days of the year and the big celebrations of life will never go 100-percent according to plan. They will never be perfect. And once we accept that, it becomes a whole lot easier to relax and let the genuine love, gratitude, and goodwill flow. And ironically, that's the exact moment when those special days really do become perfect.

Dannielle Miller, B.Ed., is the co-founder and CEO of Enlighten Education, Australia's largest provider of empowering workshops for teen girls. She is the author of various books including her latest title - Gratitude: A Positive New Approach to Raising Thankful Kids (with Vanessa Mickan). Gratitude may be downloaded as an Ebook here: