By Paula Davis-Laack • November 19, 2011•Writers in Residence
You’ve been traveling at a hectic pace this year, but you are fast approaching the day when you can take a pause and reconnect with friends and family. Here are seven strategies for a healthier and happier Thanksgiving:
Grab the good stuff. Thanks to the negativity bias, human beings are predisposed to notice and remember the bad stuff that happens during the day. Positive interactions abound, but you often fail to remember them. At the end of each day, name several good things that happened and why those good things were important. This exercise only takes a few minutes, but studies show that those who make this activity a regular habit experience increased levels of happiness and optimism (Seligman, et al., 2005).
Rejuvenate. Positive emotion is a key component of resilience (Cohn et al., 2009). Busy women attorneys tend to put themselves last on their to-do lists, and December is often one of the busiest months for attorneys. Not only is there year-end work to finish, but client and holiday parties abound. Even though time is in short supply, model the importance of taking time to rejuvenate. You can’t bring your best self to work or home if your tank is always on empty.
Shut off your gadgets. Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) shut off your electronic connection, do so for Thanksgiving Day. This is your day to truly reconnect with and enjoy your family and to savor your time off. The majority of even the most pressing client issues will be able to wait until Friday.
Manage counterproductive thinking. So you hate getting together with your great Aunt Martha and your brother drives you nuts. Even if you manage to get along with everyone in your family, you might be responsible for cooking the Thanksgiving feast and are worried about burning the bird. Whenever you have counterproductive thoughts and a task at hand, fight your thoughts with these phrases:
a. That’s not true because… (I CAN cook a successful Thanksgiving dinner because I entertain several times during the year and consistently make good food that people enjoy)
b. A more optimistic way of seeing that is… (While my brother might get under my skin sometimes, I’m glad that we are able to get together.)
c. Another way to look at this is… (Even though I might burn the turkey, we can always order pizza and everyone will have a fabulous story to tell for years to come.)
Keep exercising. I am going to San Francisco this year to visit my brother for Thanksgiving. My parents join in as well, and we all love staying up late to play cards and drink wine. As a result, I’m often overly tired and am more tempted to stay snuggled in my warm bed than to hit the treadmill. Those skipped workouts mean that my energy is lower during the day and when my defenses are down, I notice that little things tend to bug me more and I have a shorter fuse with people. The exception to this rule is those of you who have a dash and crash stress style. If you’ve been running on adrenaline and now have a few days off for Thanksgiving, you might notice that you crash – and your recovery requires more than just vegging out on the couch. You need several days to unwind, and your exercise during this recovery period should be minimal (McClellan & Hamilton, 2010).
Create a strengths family tree. Identifying your family’s strengths is a great self-awareness tool and a wonderful opportunity to talk to your kids and your family about leveraging what they do well. Anyone age 10 or older may take the VIA Inventory of Strengths or its companion test for kids at www.authentichappiness.org. If you or your kids, spouse or relatives are facing a challenge, have a discussion about how you can leverage their strengths to figure out solutions.
Finish the year strong by developing goals for 2012. Next year is right around the corner. Finish the year on a high note by reflecting on the following questions:
a. What successes did you have at work and at home?
b. How did you celebrate them?
c. What are your favorite memories from 2011?
d. What goals did you reach this year?
e. How did the challenges you faced change your life for the better?
Thanksgiving is a time to pause, reflect, and connect. Regardless of how or where you spend your holiday, here’s wishing you and your family a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!
Cohn, M.A. et al. (2009). Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion, 9(3), 361-368.
McClellan, S., & Hamilton, B. (2010). So stressed: The ultimate stress relief plan for women. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, July-August, 410-421.