On the Monday before Thanksgiving at our staff meeting, my colleague mentioned that Danes are the happiest people in the world. “And do you know why?” she asked. “It’s because they have low expectations.” There was immediate laughter. It was especially funny given we work where the bar is very high and we constantly talk about whether to raise it higher. I found the idea intriguing. Our 23-year-old son was traveling 800 miles to see us for the holiday. Our 21-year-old daughter, her boyfriend and another friend would also be joining us for Thanksgiving Day. And while we like to think of ourselves as cool, the truth is we’re not always in sync.
For example, while I imagine talking philosophically with my son over coffee each morning, he hits his stride at midnight and enjoys night energy. His ideal morning starts around noon or later. Meanwhile, I get up early, have coffee and breakfast, check my email and the weather, maybe exercise, take a shower, get dressed and figure out three options for the day before he’s hit any form of consciousness. I then stare at the figure of my son sleeping on our couch, a pile of his things thrown over one of the only two remaining chairs in the room and fight the urge to throw open the blinds. I hate sitting in the dark. Even more so when I feel the clock ticking away the time I have with someone I don’t see often enough. You can imagine the tension of wanting to keep everything relaxed, while also wanting to capture every moment without being “that mom.”
So, I told my husband about the Danes. “I think we should adopt that attitude this week,” I said. “It’s going to be a shitty Thanksgiving,” he replied (he’s quick). And guess what? It wasn’t. I didn’t expect my son to wake up at the smell of fresh-brewing coffee and declare his excitement about the day. I didn’t expect everyone to arrive early for Thanksgiving and start peeling potatoes. And I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it was peaceful to share the preparation duties alone with my husband in our kitchen that morning. Furthermore, we had other meals and time together as a family that week, played cards and basketball, and engaged in meaningful conversation about what it means to have a relationship together now that everyone is an adult. I wasn’t expecting that. We talked about Christmas and decided as a family to keep it simpler this year. I really wasn’t expecting that. It turned out to be really good…the kind of experience that feeds the soul for a while.
I told my girlfriend about the theory of lowering expectations. She had just been talking about Christmas and how to get everything done. She was intrigued and said, “now we need to figure out how to lower our kids’ expectations of us!” Hmmm….if we get this right…we could become the happiest family in the world!