Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Thankful But Not Happy

be thankfulWhile many will sit down on Thursday to share some version of the traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner, they may well be thankful, but they may not be happy.

John Lennon tells us that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

The holidays may come each year at a predictable time, but loss, illness, hardship and war have a terrible sense of timing. Regardless of what you see in the media, read in the cards or assume is true about others, lots of folks are carrying emotional pain as they step into the Holidays.

  • “ It’s not that I’m not grateful for my kids, it’s just that I miss my wife so much.”
  • “ It’s not that I don’t love and appreciate the family – I’m a mother and one of my children is not here.”

How Do You Cope?

  • The best way you can – accepting that if you are human you will have a mix of feelings – some very painful, some soothing and some wonderful, sometimes all on the same day!
  • If you are human you can have tears in your eyes – even as you smile at a little one with an entire chocolate turkey (not well hidden for dessert) crammed into his mouth before the meal begins.
  • Be gentle with yourself and leave room to embrace all of what you feel.

Consider some of these ideas as you journey into Thanksgiving…

Anticipation is the “ expectation” of what you think you will feel. Try not to use it as a guide. It can be like one of the many imperfect GPS guides that gets us lost. Too often we find the anticipation was far more stressful than the event itself.

Expand the Frame

If you have suffered a loss or have faced a crisis, friends and family will often say – “Take it easy.”

That’s not easy to do if you have been the prime mover of the Thanksgiving Dinner for years. Try calling in the troops. Although it is not easy, invite friends and family to come, bring, cook, and participate. People love being able to help. It is really more about the gathering than the food.

At difficult times we have found that having dinner at strange times with lots of people in the kitchen, competitive stuffing dishes, vegan contributions and different ( unrecognizable) entrees made for a very warm and interesting holiday. We have never gone back.

The Psychological Family – It is very common to look around the table and feel the pang of who is not there. Consider the power of the family members you carry in your heart and mind. The family gathering can actually be a restorative place for helping that. Talking about Grandma, passing around the emails from the service member in Iraq, telling stories about the children who are having dinner with the x- wife or husband’s family is a way to be connected with those who are there and not there.

Precious Possibilities – No matter how understanding or distracting a gathering of people may be, you may reach a point where you want to scream. Reach for possibilities. There is always a little person who wants to play with someone, a teen who wants to escape to play a video game, an older family member who would like to tell their story again, or a dog also waiting TO GET OUT OF THERE! Go for it.

Connecting in Your Way– If it happens that you just can’t do Thanksgiving the conventional way on that day – don’t. Connecting with a friend to fish, connecting with nature on your own, meeting someone for lunch the day after, reading Harry Potter are options that may work better for you. The meaning of any event belongs to the person living it. Self-care that is constructive and makes you feel better is thanksgiving.

Giving As A Way of Healing– You may find that being able to reach out to others is the most meaningful way to deal with the holiday. Whether serving meals at a shelter, arranging to bring your pet to a  senior center, or cooking for a family that has suffered in a similar way, you often step out of your pain into the needs and hearts of others. It is always a win-win.

Whatever you do, consider that Thanksgiving is not a day – It’s a feeling that you can have with many other feelings, in your own way and in your own time!