Q. The holidays were a total bust as usual. There’s always a lot of conflict—I’ve learned to expect it—with family members picking on each other and bringing up all the sad stuff that’s happened throughout our lives. It doesn’t help that my name is Holly! If I could afford it, I’d take myself on a cruise over the holidays next year.

A. If you live in the past and dwell on all the “sad stuff that’s happened” you’ll get what you got in the past. You can take steps to change that—not the past, of course, but creating a more positive present and future for yourself. To do that you need to live in the present. Generally, people don’t get what they deserve in life—they get what they expect. If you expect a lot of conflict, you’ll get a lot of conflict.

What can you do? Develop a positive mindset and self-talk for starters. Whenever a negative thought crops up in your mind, Refrain from pondering or verbally rehearing the negative thought. Rather acknowledge the thought and say, ‘‘Holly, that was true in the past. Today you are thankful for _____________.” Gradually your brain will get the picture. You are not denying that bad and sad things happen; you are choosing to focus on the positive.

One family that evidently had a similar situation decided to make a change. As the host family, they sent out cheery little invitation cards for the holiday gathering. It included a note at the bottom that read:

This year please leave all baggage from the past on the front porch. Let’s concentrate on what is good in the present moment. Laughter is being touted as an anti-aging strategy. Let’s laugh a lot. We can hardly wait to see you and laugh with you!

After the holidays, family members reported that every time someone said “Remember when ______” that involved a negative situation or sad story, family members were primed to respond with, “And remember when __________” and relate something happy or humorous or kind about an event in the past. They were amazed that conflict seemed minimal and sometimes they laughed until they cried recalling funny family events. People said it was the best holiday ever. Sometimes it only takes one person to catch of vision of a better way to live—and then move toward making that vision a reality. “Holly, you are doing this!”