Holidays and Emotional Wake: Seven Questions to Create Calmer Waters

I read a great question on Susan Scott’s blog: “What kind of emotional wake are your conversations leaving?”

What a great question for the beginning of the holiday season. Emotional wake is the disturbance of calm waters that we create by what we say – or don’t say – and how we react. For some, family gatherings are emotional mine fields that must be negotiated with great care more than joyous gatherings where we feel loved and appreciated. Are your holidays one of these extremes or somewhere in between? What do you do to contribute to the emotional tone?

Perhaps this is the year to adopt a new approach to family gatherings. Here are a few ideas I’m experimenting with for the holidays:

1. Where do I really want to be? As I evaluate invitations, I will think about where I want to be – what feels comfortable or enjoyable to me instead of what I feel obliged to do.

2. Who do I want to be with? Yes, this sounds a lot like my first question, but it’s a little different. As I think about holiday events, I’d like to envision how I will spend my time. Who am I looking forward to seeing? Are there conversations that I really want to have and relationships I want to strengthen?

3. What can I bring to the party? No, not material things, although I always plan to show up with chocolate – usually handmade truffles. This is about how I will show up. How can I contribute to the success of the event? What will my emotional tone be? What can I give to others?

4. What should I leave behind? This is not the place for emotional baggage. Or old grudges. Or mean-spirited stories. Or judgments. How will I avoid these things?

5. How will I remain present, aware, and responsible for the emotional tone I create and maintain? I’m not talking about false cheer here, but I am talking about maintaining a calm and pleasant manner; of casting aside small, meaningless hurts; of noticing the positive; of sharing love. I want to be in the moment and aware of the impact of what I say and do in a natural, comfortable way. I want to contribute to joy, not sorrow, to trust, to love.

6. If I get caught up and create wake, how will I take responsibility? I don’t plan to watch every word that comes out of my mouth – I want to have a good time and be human among humans, so something can go awry. I do plan, though, to pay attention, to own my statements, and to immediately explore any mishap that may occur and to listen, listen, listen, and then listen.

7. What will bring me joy? I don’t know – but I plan to expect it. And I’ll bet, with joy as an expectation, I won’t be disappointed.

I love my friends and family. And I know they love me. Deeply centered in that knowledge, I plan to eat too much turkey, get to know my cousins better, laugh, play trains with one young cousin and maybe read with another and celebrate the 65th birthdays of two fantastic friends.

I hope that the wake I leave behind this year is filled with multi-colored sparkling bubbles of joy. And I hope yours is too.