Written by : Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin’s Strategies for the Holidays

Author and happiness expert Gretchen Ruben explains how to avoid the holiday mishaps that can can distract us from joyfully engaging with our loved ones.

People celebrating at a holiday party

The author and happiness guru recommends adjusting expectations for optimal outcomes.

The holidays can be a joyous time, but for some of us, they can also herald the coming of a series of challenges that can distract us from joyfully engaging with our loved ones.

Here are a few strategies for easing some of the holiday stress at family gatherings:

1. Try not to ruffle feathers

You may be intending to show polite interest, but questions such as, “When are you getting married and starting a family?” can rub a person the wrong way. Instead, show your interest with more open-ended questions like, “What are you up to these days?”

2. Avoid strife

If you know Uncle Bobby’s political views drive you crazy, don’t bring them up! And if he brings up the subject, don’t engage him. Make a joke of it, and say something like, “Let’s not talk about that, and give the rest of the family something to be thankful for.”

3. Don't drink too much

While it makes some people merry, alcohol can make others combative, self-pitying and even destructive, so avoid imbibing too much for your own sake. Also, if you notice people trying to curb their drinking, don’t make a fuss of it or urge them to indulge.

4. Play your part in traditions

Chances are, traditions are important for some of your family members. Though your brother’s insistence on having exactly the same food every Thanksgiving may irritate you, try to stay patient.

5. Don't strive for perfection

As my mother told me, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”

6. Watch what you eat

Feeling bad about eating too much can make you irritable and angry, which can then negatively affect your interactions. And, similar to drinking, if you notice someone skimping on dessert, don’t comment or make it harder for him or her.

7. Find fun

If the time with your relatives is meant to be fun, spend at least some of it doing something that’s fun for you.

8. Think of reasons to be grateful

Be thankful that you get to cook (or that you don’t have to cook). Be thankful that you get to travel (or that you don’t have to travel). Be thankful for your family or your friends. In the process, you’ll give your happiness a boost and crowd out resentment and annoyance.

9. Adjust your behavior

If you encounter difficult relatives, you can’t do anything to change them; you can only change yourself. And in many situations, people behave in a difficult way as a reaction to something or someone else. So, if you behave differently, they may, too.

This year, make this holiday season one where you focus on spending quality time with the people who matter most to you and creating memories. After all, that’s what the holidays are really about.


Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of The Happiness Project Happier at Home, and Better than Before. Read about Gretchen's adventures at GretchenRubin.com

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