8 Counterintuitive Strategies for a Happier Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Here are a few tips to help you and your family keep the peace and make the most of the holiday:

1. Be clear-eyed

Manage expectations. It’s nice to have high hopes for the holidays but be realistic. There is no such thing as the perfect holiday. Aim for good enough.

2. Be picky

Choose carefully what you say “yes” to. There is a difference between events you want to attend and events you feel like you have to attend. Don’t be afraid to say, “Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I cannot make it.” If you are feeling particularly stuffed socially, having an exit strategy works wonders.

3. Find common ground

A family dinner is not the time to change someone’s mind. If heated debates about politics, money, religion, or any other contentious topics are inevitable with friends and family this holiday season, beware of persuasion fatigue. Set aside differences. Focus on what you have in common. There are so many other things to talk about.

4. Sit at a round table

If you would like to keep the peace, take a page from King Arthur’s book and sit at a circular table. Research shows that people seated at a round table—as opposed to a rectangular or square one—get along better and are less likely to bicker.

5. Turkey tastes better when shared

We are social creatures and our wellbeing—both physical and mental—depends on our connections. Reach out to someone who may be on their own this Thanksgiving. Don’t assume everyone has plans. Extending an invitation and including them in your tradition will make the meal merrier. As studies show, food and wine taste better when shared.

6. Go deep

Stop worrying about making better small talk, it’s deep conversations that make us feel whole. Studies show that people prefer meaningful conversation to chitchat about the weather. Plus, deep talk will help you veer the conversation away from the minefield of politics. Some of my favorite conversation starters include:

  • Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  • If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
  • What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?

7. Go for a walk

‘Tis not the season to be a couch potato. Just a short stroll (15 minutes does the trick) can boost your mood and reduce stress. If you live in colder climates, walking in a winter wonderland is especially mood-enhancing. Plus, being outdoors will also help improve sleep quality.

8. Lose the phone

Just the sight of a phone—yours or someone else’s—is enough to undermine the quality of a conversation. You will have a better holiday if you put your phone away.

I wish you and your loved ones a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

And if all else fails, remember, “There’s always something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Even if it’s just not being a turkey.”

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman