In his excellent series on the collective wisdom of senior citizens, New York Times columnist David Brooks has, perhaps unwittingly, offered some useful ideas for surviving and thriving during the holidays. The ideas come from a series he is writing called Life Reports, in which he asks people over 70 years old to send him their recollections. Brooks writes that the happiest and best-adjusted participants in his Life Reports project had some things in common. For one, they all had a fairly specific set of responses to bad occurrences in their lives: forget it, forgive it, or be grateful for it.
This is excellent advice for coping with our current time of year. Along the range of truly bad events, the holidays are small potatoes for most of us. Many people are joyful creatures throughout the season, happily humming carols, baking cookies, and tossing tinsel. Then there’s the rest of us for whom the season is the perfect opportunity to be irritated, grouchy, and Grinchy. Whether it’s crowded shopping malls, uncivilized drivers, or Crazy Aunt Hattie spouting her political views at dinner, Brooks’ collective wisdom of the seniors is valuable for crafting a suitable response.
In forgiving, forgetting, or being grateful, the words we use to talk to ourselves are crucial. For instance:
- When somebody whips into a much-coveted parking space ahead of you, rather than making the internationally recognized gesture, say this to yourself: “Let that guy have the spot. I didn’t need it, anyway. I’ll park farther down and get some exercise.”
- For the person who jostles you at the crowded shopping mall and then stares at you accusingly, just smile and say “Excuse me.” Was it you who bumped him? No. Does it matter? Not a bit. Be the first one to be civilized in an uncivilized world, and your day will go better.
- And when Crazy Aunt Hattie spouts her latest political viewpoint, just be grateful she isn’t your spouse or your mother. Two more things to be thankful for: she’ll be leaving right after dinner, and she doesn’t actually hold a political office. Then tell yourself how beautifully quiet your home will be...eventually.
The words we say to ourselves drive our responses to situations big and small. The holidays are a great time to practice telling ourselves useful things, and they’re an ideal time to forgive, forget, and be grateful.
Happy holidays to every one of us.