Holiday help: What to do when relatives get on your nervesHolidays are stressful enough without adding difficult family members into the mix. These small adjustments will let you enjoy your gatherings, all the way to the last sliver of pie.
One of the biggest happiness challenges of the holidays, besides fitting into your pants after all that great food, is dealing with difficult relatives. You want to enjoy a festive meal with the family, but Uncle Bobby's too-personal questions or shock radio-worthy political rants make you crazy. He's there, you're there, and confrontation feels inevitable. How can you make him behave?
You can't. One of the keys to happiness during the holidays is accepting that we can't change others. Uncle Bobby is probably the same person he has been for 60 years. The only thing you can change is you. When you shift your own behavior first, it's amazing how much you can also shift long-standing family dynamics. Here are some small adjustments that will let you enjoy that holiday dinner, all the way to the last sliver of pie.
1. Remember who you are now
A visit with family can kick us back into old roles. Your mother thinks you're still irresponsible, so you're late and forget to bring the yams; your older sister treats you like a geeky teen, which makes you feel awkward. Resist lapsing into old patterns by reminding yourself that you've changed and grown.
2. Keep the conversation light
If questions like "When are you going to get a real job?" and "Can you afford that?" make you grit your teeth, head them off by asking your own open-ended questions, like "What are you up to these days?" and "What's keeping you busy?" If someone brings up a topic that rankles, make a joke of it: "Let's avoid talking about that — and give everyone something to be really thankful for!" Then excuse yourself to refill your glass. And, speaking of which...
3. Don't drink and discuss
Alcohol makes some people merry, but it can make others combative, self-pitying, or a tad too uninhibited. If you feel stressed, resist having more wine and distract yourself by engaging with a child, playing with a pet, or sharing funny YouTube videos (instantaneous, thanks to smartphones).
4. Honor traditions
You may feel irritated by your brother's insistence on having exactly the same food every year, or by going to religious services you don't normally attend. Be patient and play your part. Traditions and rituals help sustain happiness and family bonds.
5. Get past perfectionism
Even if the family gathering isn't the way you'd hoped it would be, try to enjoy it as it is. Too much fussing to make an experience "perfect" can ruin it altogether.
6. Find some fun
Someone else's good time won't necessarily delight you, and vice versa. Be sure to spend part of the family holiday doing something you enjoy. From cooking and playing touch football to watching your favorite show on TV, find balance between being a good sport and doing what you like.
7. Remember the reason for the season
Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster. Also, feeling grateful edges out draining emotions like resentment and annoyance. Be thankful you get to travel and cook — or that you don't have to do either. Be glad for your friends and your family, even Uncle Bobby. Give thanks wherever and whenever you can.
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