Dr. Zan’s thoughts:
As I pause to write, I am struck by how fortunate I am to have multiple stories I can tell that provide personal examples of the cause for gratitude. Hence, there is ample material for developing a gratitude strategy. Before proceeding, I would like to acknowledge that having choices in one’s life truly is a gift. If you too have much in your life that inspires gratitude (or much that could elicit such a response), I invite you to join me in this acknowledgement.
Today, I choose to apply the gratitude strategy to family. While many people I know are quick to tell me that they value family above all else and employ a “family first” approach to decision making, perhaps an equal number have a more mixed reality of being a part of a family. Yet, I would argue that we all long for that idyllic family experience that is portrayed in the sit-coms that were the staple of my formative years--families that spend ample time together, that laugh together, and become closer as the result of lessons learned. If that was not or is not your experience, then I hope that you realize that you are not alone. Such is the Hollywood version of family. Most of us, when we compare ourselves to a storybook ideal, find that we come up a bit lacking. That is simply a part of the human condition. We are often susceptible to longing for something that is ultimately elusive.
When the holiday season presents itself, many find that their less-than-ideal family circumstances are highlighted. Perhaps there is the need to connect, but the connection does not feel genuine. There may be long-standing hurts that must be managed. Or there may be in an inability to share time with those you value most. Perhaps, as in our family, parents are no longer living, and holidays can be an occasion to contemplate losses.
In my own experience, there are family members who possess some of the traits of loved ones who are no longer with us. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to share special time with family members who remind me of my dad, who was pretty special to me. As I mentioned last week, the gratitude strategy does not mean that I ignore or discount any sadness I may harbor about no longer being able to share time with my dad. However, it does mean that I make a choice to focus on the gift of having a wonderful nephew and son who embody some of my dad’s best qualities. In the field of psychology, we sometimes refer to the process I’m describing as a “reframe.” Rather than focusing first on my sadness and loss, I choose to intentionally draw my attention to the gift of my father’s legacy as I observe it in young men who have come after him. Of course, this is only one aspect of my relationship with these family members, but I do cherish the moments shared that remind me of a special relationship from the past. I am making a conscious choice to frame my experience from the perspective of ongoing gifts. Won’t you consider joining me?
Dr. Nadine’s Reflections:
…And “ongoing gifts” is such an appropriate focus! Because here we are, just barely a couple of weeks from Christmas. If you’re like me, you wholeheartedly embrace the spirit of the season. I window shop with wonder, I wrangle with gift wrap, I wade through websites, I plod through packages. I’m a confessed Hallmark junkie, having been watching Christmas movies since Halloween.
Whether this is your holiday or not, for most of us it brings forward the longing that people share for “peace on earth and goodwill toward all.” That hope of redemption is something that we all desire. We indulge in watching movies that portray the many ways that broken lives are restored, and in which messy situations are reclaimed and refurbished. We vicariously experience the joy when all is made right, and feel our hearts swell as we belt out “Our Grown-up Christmas List” when we hear it on the radio.
I do know that Real Life isn’t neat, and that difficulties aren’t resolved at the end of two hours like they are in the movies. Yet, this is the one time of year I allow myself to totally revel in the hope of renewal. I listen for stories telling of how folks are going out of their way to be kind and generous. I scour my surroundings for examples of the ordinary and extraordinary ways that people help one another. I look for the goodness in people, and overlook the bad. I reframe my reaction to the nasty shopper who’s crabby and wants to butt in line at the department store from being irritated to being grateful that I can enjoy a bit more time looking at magazines while waiting for the cashier. I’m grateful to be able to see the sacred in the ordinary tasks of everyday. I’m happy to offer the gifts of Real Life – love, attention, empathy, concern, caring, help, and laughter - to my Dear Ones. I’m grateful to reframe the frustrations and obstacles I face each day into opportunities to learn and grow.
Yes, Virginia, I know there is a Santa Claus.