Rewriting Tolstoy

It’s that time of year again — the time of year when most people are living the famous line from Leo Tolstoy’s novel,  Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Starting with Thanksgiving and barreling straight through Christmas and into New Year’s, people everywhere — young and old, single and married, happy and sad — are making plans to spend time with their families. Some will drive to the next town over for a quick visit; others will travel across the country or halfway around the world — filling highways and train stations and airports as they make their way home to reconnect: to share meals and gifts and time with families they don’t often see.

For some people, the holidays are filled with uncomplicated joy and happiness — gift-giving and cookie-baking and matching-footed-pajamas! For others, the holidays are filled with stress and angst and sadness. For them, the holidays don’t look or feel anything like that Norman Rockwell painting.  For them, the holidays are emotionally complicated and difficult to manage.

So this year, if you’re one of those people — like most people are —  instead of spending the holidays counting all  the ways in which your unhappy family is unhappy in its own way — instead of rolling your eyes at every bad sweater and every drunk uncle and every semi-hurtful-remark; instead of counting, on the fingers and toes of both hands and feet (and the hands and feet of everyone in the room), every grievance and complaint — however justified! — instead of falling down the usual rabbit hole of holiday misery and depression, why not try something different:

Use what you’ve learned all these months using Happier and find the small positive moments in your holiday visit.

For some of you, this will be easy — so easy, it might threaten to ruin your holiday because you’ll be so busy focusing on all your happy moments your family will complain that you’re not paying enough attention to them! But for others, you’ll have to dig deep to find those moments. You’ll have to look past all the old wounds and try to find beauty and love and peace in other things:  a safe flight home; the perfect crust of an apple pie; a Butterball turkey perfectly cooked, even though the stupid thermometer-thingy was broken and didn’t pop up.

Instead of suffering in silence about the big things, try expressing gratitude aloud for the little things: Thank your mother for making your favorite green bean casserole (even if it’s really not your favorite but she just thinks it is); thank your father for a warm fire well-lit; thank your spouse or your partner for making the trip home with you and for enduring your family’s eccentricities and idiosyncrasies with grace and patience. If you do, you’ll be able to rewrite Tolstoy:

All happy families are boring; each unhappy family is interesting in its own way and can be made happier by focusing on really really really small positive moments during holiday visits….

(And for a laugh, here’s an Xtranormal Video I made last year about Thanksgiving: “Hello 1-800-Butterball? My Turkey Is Fine, But My Family Is Killing Me!”)

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