Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What do the holidays mean to you? It’s how you frame the question.

R. Scott Benson, M.D.

Thanksgiving seems to be the one time a year we can get a national focus on family and sharing with others. And before we finish that pumpkin pie everyone seems to start working on the next holiday which comes in different names in different cultures, but typically involves gifts. In the Santa tradition the focus is on what will he bring me.

But then we realize that is not the real meaning of the holidays.

A tool from cognitive therapy might help at this point, reframing. Reframing involves recognizing distorted thinking and focusing on other thoughts that reflect the reality that we want.

Let’s try an example. Typically we ask children “what do you want?” and later we ask “what did you get?” And these are the questions that define the meaning of the holiday season for them.

I don’t think that is the meaning we intended. So we can try a different approach. And it takes a lot of practice. In working with children or in my community I try to start the conversation with “What have you been thinking about doing for your mother during the holidays?” Or “What do you think your brother would like this year?”

And after the presents have been opened I ask, “Who really liked the present you gave?” And always in this era of instance messaging and Tweeting it never hurts to ask “Have you started on your thank you notes yet?”

Well? Have you?

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