Holidays often remind us of our warmest memories of family, childhood, and togetherness. This time of year can be full of joyous celebration—but it can also trigger painful memories and negative interactions with family while others seemingly have a perfect holiday. Oftentimes, the holiday season provides us with hope that we will find a sense of serenity and that our relationships will somehow un-complicate themselves. But smoothing out relationships, or simply letting go of bitterness and resentment, requires mental and emotional effort.
Realizing that even the most loving families don’t have perfect relationships is key to dealing with the holiday blues. We can take these feelings about complex and difficult relationships and use them to increase our faith in humankind and motivate us to express what our heart truly feels. Let go of resentments, conflicts and grudges so that you can release not just others, but yourself, from the negativity that you spend valuable energy maintaining. The act of forgiveness is about freeing ourselves from our own prison and understanding that resolution is possible, even if it’s one-sided. Letting go of resentment and anger can be challenging, but you have a choice in dealing with your emotions or allowing them to make you unhappy. We can choose to move toward a conscious decision of happiness and serenity and understand that the condition of our hearts is far more precious than resentment and anger, no matter what circumstances have occurred in life.
Here is a simple forgiveness exercise called “Light a Candle.” Using a small candle, light it and think of the person you wish to forgive. Visualize them while forgiving them either mentally or verbally. Continue working with this person until the candle burns down. If you finish your act of forgiveness before the candle burns out, then blow out the flame and release them and yourself from anger and resentment. This exercise helps you hold a mental dialogue with the person you wish to forgive and visualize anger draining away from you.
Forgiveness is inherently linked with gratitude. It may be one of the most powerful catalysts in how we restructure our perspective of the world and our relationships with others. It’s easy to focus on what we want and lose perspective of what’s important. Thankfulness speaks to the emotional expression of what we are fortunate for and recognizes who and what we already have in our lives. Cultivating gratitude is proven to build optimism and improve our outlook on life.
A simple appreciation exercise is called the “ABC’s of gratitude.” It is an effective way to broaden your sense of gratitude and help release feelings of anger. Say each letter of the alphabet and then identify a unique area of gratitude relevant to you that starts with that letter. Give yourself permission to pause, breathe, and appreciate all that is solid in your life. Practicing this exercise will also reveal when new things come into your life that you can appreciate—when you can fill in a letter that you couldn’t fill in before, or when a letter comes to mean multiple things to you.
A key to happiness is recognizing that anger and bitterness have a more powerful impact on us than the individuals that we direct the anger towards. Instead of harboring unhealthy feelings that affect your outlook, try to free yourself from the cycle of angry thoughts that often feed off of each other and use these exercises to accomplish your goal of a healthy mind. You deserve happiness throughout the entire year—so this holiday season, alter your lens on life, harness your personal energy, and start working towards a more positive way of living.
By Rob D’Alonzo
Rob D’Alonzo serves as Chief Clinical Officer at The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth. He has his masters in Clinical Psychology, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and is a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional.