Between You and Me

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Tips for Surviving the Holidays

A second helping of scientific tricks to help you make the best of the holidays

Happy Holidays Everyone!

As many of us head home on the busiest travel day of the year, we can look forward to relaxation, time with family, good food and good presents. But many of us may also be anxiously anticipating terrible traffic, long travels, time with family, guilt-inducing meals, and awkward gift exchanges. So just like last year, I've compiled a few scientifically-based tips to help make your holidays a little brighter.

 

 When interacting with others:

  • When you find yourself stuck in traffic with terrible drivers, or interacting with, well, anyone, remember to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We all have different thoughts, experiences and motivations, so while you may think the car in front of you has a jerk driver when it cuts you off, it may be that they are out-of-towners trying to navigate your confusing city streets for the first time. Or when good ol' Uncle Clyde* starts talking politics, try to remind yourself that while his views seem backwards and antiquated, they may be based on personal experiences he had growing up, and not just because he has his head in the sand.
  • As you head into the big family gathering, try to be approach-orientedInstead of just hoping to avoid a big fight with your brother, try thinking about the time as an opportunity to get closer to him, share a laugh, and have fun together. As cheesy as that sounds, by focusing on having something good happen, instead of thinking about how to avoid something bad happening, you may find yourself in a better mood, and that's good for everyone!
  • If giving people the benefit of the doubt, and being approach-oriented just aren't enough to put you in the holiday spirit, you can try a little morbid trick that always works for me: imagining that you didn't have your loved ones at all, or something bad happened to them. Realizing life is precious and some of your older relatives may not be around for many more holidays can really help you put things in perspective. 

 

 When opening presents: 

  • Try to keep a grateful attitude as you open your gifts, and appreciate the thought that went into getting the gift for you. A little gratitude goes a long way.
  • Focus on the experiences you'll be able to have with your gift, instead of focus on its materialistic features. If you think about that reindeer sweater from Aunt Ginny as just a reindeer sweater, you'll get momentary pleasure at best. But if you imagine winning the ugly sweater prize at next year's holiday party, the gift will bring you joy for years to come!

 

When eating that delicious, calorie-rich meal

  • Don't stereotype your food, even fat, salt, and sugar are an important part of your diet. Try to think of your meal as part of the celebration (as many French do) instead of a reason to feel guilty (as many Americans do).
  • When you have eaten two cinnamon rolls and its time to call it quits, try employing those implementation techniques, such as telling yourself "When dessert is brought out, I'll only have one slice of pie or one cookie." Or "When I finish my plate, I'll wait five minutes before going for seconds." Implementation intentions aren't just for diet and exercise - if you know your Uncle Clyde is going to start talking to you about politics, you can be prepared by telling yourself "When Uncle Clyde starts talking about politics, I will excuse myself to go to the bathroom." That way when you are caught up in the moment, you already have your game plan set out for you.

 *No real family members were harmed in the making of this post.

Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral scholar in Social-Personality Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. 

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