The Most Important (and Hidden) Guest at Thanksgiving

November 6, 2023 9:34 am Published by

We’ve entered November, which means Thanksgiving is approaching. And unfortunately, for many people, thoughts about this year’s Thanksgiving bring up negative reactions and raises our anxiety. (This is in contrast to focusing on past Thanksgiving holidays where we can usually recall some positive memories and feelings.) Why might this be?

I would propose that there is a singular guest we all have at our holiday events – regardless of what type of Thanksgiving celebration we have. And this guest is usually hidden, until we learn they aren’t pleased. Who is it? Expectations.

Take a moment to think about this year’s upcoming Thanksgiving. What comes to mind?

  • Plans for the day and weekend
  • Preparations that need to occur
  • Communication (or lack of) with those you will be with; or thoughts about those you won’t be talking to

Intertwined with all of these thoughts are expectations: yours, your spouse’s / partner’s, your parents’, your kids’, grandparents’, in-laws’, friends’.

Those are a lot of peoples’ expectations to know, understand, accept / reject, try to meet or just deal with. And by their very nature, they conflict with one another. The results?

  • Tension
  • Difficult decisions and conversations
  • Relational conflict
  • Internal distress

Then add all of the subtle expectations we receive from our living environment: work, our boss, our coworkers, customers (possibly), what we see posted on Instagram and Facebook, what we hear on the news, radio, podcasts. Constantly urging us to “Be thankful!” “Be grateful and positive!” “You should [do this].”  “You should [do that].”

Now, instead of a warm, fun, relational time with those we care about, we start dreading the holiday which is supposed to be a celebration of all the good things in our lives. No wonder we feel stressed.

What to Do

So . . . what can we do? Identify our expectations? Helpful. Communicate clearly with others, including learning about their expectations? Also, helpful. Align everyone’s expectations? Not happening.

I think an important step is to accept reality. The reality that people have differing expectations. The reality that there is a good probability that some external circumstance may disrupt your plans. The reality that we may not fully know our own and others’ expectations until they come to the surface because they aren’t being met. The reality that you will have unmet expectations, and that is okay. The reality that others will have unmet expectations, and for some, that means they will be unhappy (or frustrated or disappointed or angry). The reality that you can’t make them feel better – that is their choice.

What else might help you cope with expectations? Remember to invite another guest… perspective. Perspective reminds us that many people struggle with poverty and hunger and have been displaced from their homes. And, almost certainly, we all know someone (or may be someone) who is hurting or experiencing a difficult life circumstance or strained close relationship.

But no matter the circumstances you find yourself in, there is almost always something to be thankful for. There are blessings in our lives, even if they seem small compared to what we see on television and social media. And perspective helps us to find and focus on those during this holiday of thanks. So… even though there will be tension around the holiday, be kind (to others and yourself) and patient, and let someone know you care about and are thankful for them.

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November 6, 2023 9:34 am


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