Most trips home are spent seeing who needs to be seen (grandmothers, nephews, brothers-in-law), avoiding those who need to be avoided (ex-boyfriends, the mean girl from seventh grade, brothers-in-law) and doing our best to stay out of fights (with all of the above). Experts say we can get a lot more out of our trip. Here are seven ways to make the most of your visit.
1. Cue up videos of your younger, less self-conscious, more exuberant self.
Dig out the recordings of you doing those things you just loved as a kid: twirling the baton, playing the flute, acting in living room theater. Even if these videos contain mortifying moments of flop sweat and botched lines, they'll still make you flush with pleasure, says Tim Wildschut, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Southampton in England, who researches nostalgia. You'll unconsciously emphasize the aspects you loved about this activity—the exhilaration of performing, the release of energy, the pride in your parents' faces—and laugh at or ignore the rest. This activity can help you feel more in touch with the younger version of yourself and boost your confidence in the older version too, says Wildschut.
2. Get the real story behind that chipped platter your mother refuses to part with.
This not-so-gently-loved plate has become so much a part of the holiday that you've stopped seeing it. This year, get your mother talking about its history, suggests Evan Imber-Black, PhD, director of the Center for Families and Health at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City. Don't just ask who made the platter but also find out how it ended up on your family's table and what it means to your mother. Going home as an adult gives us an opportunity to identify important symbols like these that we might never notice as a child, says Imber-Black, the author of Rituals for Our Times. They can help illustrate the story of your family history and make your relatives seem like complicated, interesting characters from an epic work of fiction by Tolstoy or Franzen.
Next: The nostalgia activity that's a better mood booster than chocolate