Airing grievances is so healthy, there’s a whole holiday for doing it with family: Festivus.
As the days get darker and shorter, our grievances may be toward absolutely everything around us: loved ones, responsibilities, the economy, the Universe, and even life, itself.
We may feel so frustrated, that we just need to productively communicate what annoys us. If that’s all you need, skip directly to concrete ways you can let off steam with those closest to you.
If you’re also curious about the origin of Festivus (the complaining holiday), read below about how Festivus works, where the idea came from, and the airing of grievances. Also, see famous Festivus quotes and tweets.
“At the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year!” – Frank Costanza
Ah, Festivus: it started in the home of Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe and was depicted in the show as a Costanza family tradition. From there, it took root in opposition to the commercial pressures of the holiday season, featuring feats of strength, a strong aluminum pole, a ban on tinsel, and — most critically — the airing of grievances from the past year. It occurs every year on December 23rd.
While a comedic holiday, Festivus has psychological utility. The airing of grievances provides catharsis, a release of pent-up emotional energy. It also encourages openness, progress, or apology; and it emphasizes the acceptability of mistakes, similar to Carol Dweck’s concept of growth mindset.
Amy Cooper Hakim, PhD, explains the significance of productive complaining:
“Complaining is healthy when the issue is bothering you so much that you cannot sleep or think straight. We shouldn’t cover up a physical pain and avoid…help. Similarly, we shouldn’t ignore something that is causing us emotional distress, especially if addressing the issue can bring us comfort. The key is to do so in a way that is productive for everyone involved.”
Airing your grievances has also been shown in studies to increase bonding; it’s a way to express your identity indirectly, and can often create icebreaking comic relief. Even the New York Times has discussed the mental and physical health benefits of complaining.
Need to clear the air to survive your shelter-in-place together? Feel ready to introduce the tradition to your family? Here are some suggestions for how to structure your airing of grievances and make complaints effectively:
In order for engage participants, it’s a good practice to mutually agree to a basic ground rule: Who and what are fair game to complain about?
First, feel out your family. Each group of Festivus celebrants will have a different threshold for sarcasm, dry humor, and blunt feedback. If your family is more mild-mannered, you can limit the celebration to grievances about strangers, the world, or people not present at the gathering. Or, you can roast each other full-on, quoting Frank Costanza: “I got a lotta problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!”
Once you’ve decided who and what you can all complain about, it’s important to set guidelines for how to express these gripes.
Key to making this worthwhile for everyone is to encourage growth mindset, the belief that people can always change and improve through effort – that a bad action doesn’t stay with you forever.
To maintain a healthy tone, grievance statements should avoid expressing feelings in terms of anger, betrayal, or objective fact. These approaches invite defensiveness. Instead, try to find a label for your emotion that avoids placing blame or judging an action.
Instead of “You make me feel…,” try: “I feel…, when you…”
Instead of “You did…,” say: “I’m concerned that you…, because…”
After all, your loved one probably didn’t intend to hurt you, and implying they did may make them feel deservedly defensive.
If your family is more mild-mannered, but you still want to try celebrating Festivus together, writing down grievances may produce less anxiety than saying them around the table.
You can print and fill out this pre-made grievance template, or write your issues on slips of paper/index cards. Here are some other pointers:
The following are from Season 9 Episode 10, “The Strike,” where Frank Costanza, Jerry Seinfeld, Kramer, and the rest of the gang ‘got a lot of problems’ with each other.
“Welcome, newcomers. The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re gonna hear about it.” – Frank Costanza
“Festivus, yes! Bagels, no!” – Kramer
“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.” – Frank Costanza
“I find your belief system fascinating.” – Kruger (played by Bryan Cranston)
“Stop crying and fight your father.” – Frank Costanza
“You’ll be surprised to learn I have some grievances with people in Washington, fellow members and others. It’s time to talk about them now, because it’s the holiday season.” – Rand Paul
“It’s a stupid holiday my father invented. It doesn’t exist.” – George Costanza
“Everyone enjoy your feats of strength today. Air your grievances here or in your home.” – Rand Paul
“You couldn’t smooth a silk sheet…” – Frank Costanza
“Festivus is back! I’ll get the pole out of the crawl space.” – Frank Costanza
“Frank, this new holiday of yours is scratching me right where I itch.” – Kramer
Armed with Festivus quotes and all these options for a practical and productive Festivus, go ahead and give it a shot!
And if your family can’t provide the safe space necessary for a happy Festivus, you have other options, like Supportiv, where you can comfortably air any grievance, as bluntly as you want, any time of day.
Wishing you a Happy Festivus, however you choose to celebrate!