Tons of food, alcohol, politics, family… what could possibly go wrong during the holidays?

Year after year, many of us still hope for that elusive, harmonious bonding holiday experience. Most of us leave disappointed, bloated, and with an emotional hangover to tend. Hope for a picture perfect holiday experience almost always leaves us wanting.

We are inundated by images of the way the day is supposed to go, but – spoiler alert – I’ve never seen it go that way for anyone.

Enjoying the holiday season is really about managing our expectations. And being thoughtful about what we would like to see happen. Giving a little thought to the holiday beforehand can help transform the day into something truly satisfying and memorable – even if the turkey is dry.

Don’t Be Fooled

Many clients ask for extra psychotherapy sessions as they anticipate challenges during the holiday season. Glossy supermarket ads show a dignified, kind-looking grandpa carving a turkey roasted to perfection as the expectant and attentive family looks on in deep appreciation.

There’s pleasant conversation over traditional family recipes, and the color coordinated table provides the backdrop for a memorable holiday get-together.

The Reality

The reality looks more like this: Uncle Louie drinks too much Chardonnay, as usual, and is loudly recounting his last failed attempt at dating, with some vaguely inappropriate details.

Cousin Susie is trying to make a getaway. She’s a bit distracted because she’s waiting to hear from her boyfriend who said he’d text. Little Johnny’s fingers are in the relish tray – all too often.

Technology Isn’t Helping

Lately, I’ve been hearing that holiday time is especially difficult because of the political climate, and lines have been drawn. Nerves are raw, and that doesn’t make for pleasant chit chat.

Some family members are just waiting to get up from the table so they can check out the Thanksgiving sales on their iPhones. And some stores are open on Thanksgiving evening to get a jump on Black Friday.

Decluttering tips and new clothes sales both show up on our social media feeds. The whole experience can be unsettling, both physically and emotionally. We might feel alienated, and just a bit empty inside.

A New Idea

As a psychotherapist and professional podcaster, I have the opportunity to learn about how others around the world navigate tricky emotional situations. Guests talk about their own experiences being human, especially as they are aging.

Jolene Hill, an Aussie, is the creator of Your Life Talks, and has designed a beautiful card deck that helps us have meaningful conversations. Her goal is to get to know people at a deeper level and guide the conversation towards revealing deeply held values and beliefs.

As a result of losing her husband without having a conversation about his end of life wishes, she’s created these cards to help us understand what our loved ones want as they age.

Using these cards at a gathering like the Thanksgiving table is a wonderful chance to connect with loved ones on a deeper level. Jolene quipped that when she used the cards herself, she learned things about her husband she hadn’t known after almost 40 years of marriage!

Real Conversations

Bringing your best listening skills and curiosity to the holiday table has real benefits for everyone. People love to be asked questions and listened to. With the advent of smartphones, a 45-minute therapy session is almost arcane.

Talking and listening without distraction is no longer a typical experience. Come to the holiday with the idea that even though you have known these people for a long time, there’s more to learn.

They have stories that will surprise you. And like a good interviewer, it’s better to ask open-ended questions, rather than those that require yes-or-no answers. It will change the whole atmosphere of your get-together.

You Will Be Surprised

Good conversations connect us to one another and also feel good. We’re social beings, so it fits in with our evolutionary needs.

Connecting and feeling understood are deep needs, and many people say they don’t have enough of this in their lives. So, even if the turkey is burned and the mashed potatoes are cold, you will come away feeling nourished and well fed.

When was the last time you had a great conversation around the holiday table? Do you think you can initiate the conversation this year? What are some good topics to start with? Let’s have a discussion and share our experiences!

Let's Have a Conversation!