Valorie Burton's latest book, 'Happy Women Live Better'
Valorie Burton's latest book, 'Happy Women Live Better.' (Images: Getty/Harvest House)

Last Saturday night, I saw a sight I hadn’t seen since before her massive aneurysm and brain surgery nearly 12 years ago: My 60-year-old mom dancing to Robin Thicke, fingers snapping, smile lighting up the room, walker pushed to the side, having a ball at our family reunion.

I smiled, too, savoring the pure joy of being among aunties and uncles and cousins. It’s summertime – and that means family reunion time. Like so many African-American families, we come together every year – reconnecting, laughing, catching up and celebrating the legacy of those who came before us. In our case, it’s the descendants of “Mama Amy” and “Daddy Joe,” my great-grandparents.

I like going to family reunions because I actually like my family. We all speak to each other. There are no cliques. No drama. And like last Saturday night, we always have a good time. But I have coached hundreds of people over the years, and inevitably the issue of how to handle that diva of a cousin or drama-filled uncle at the family gathering comes up.

Can you relate? What do you do when dealing with certain relatives drains your energy or brings out the worst in you? Here are a few solutions for your having your happiest family reunion yet – even if you face some sticky dilemmas:

5 Rules for a Happy Family Reunion

  • Stick to the purpose.

Why are you going to the family reunion? Is it to connect or re-connect with relatives? Have fun? Then focus on what you want – not what you don’t.  Smile. Play. Help out. Don’t look for reasons to be offended. This is not the time for a showdown. If something needs to be discussed, have a private talk before you get there or after. Don’t take the spotlight off of the reunion to deal with matters that can be discussed after the reunion.

  • Stop texting, start talking.

The purpose of a family reunion is to create a space in which you don’t have to text and call – you get to see everybody in person. So put away the gadgets and enjoy each other.

  • Stop letting folks push your buttons.

The main reason people push your buttons is because they get a response that allows them to control you, your emotions and your behavior.  Deactivate those buttons. If you always respond by getting into an argument, don’t. Be quiet. Walk away. If normally you respond by getting quiet, maybe it’s time to deactivate that button and speak up – kindly and respectfully.  One thing is for certain: If you keep doing the same stuff that always leads to frustration, you’ll keep getting frustrated.  Do something different.

  • Let people be who they are.

One of the biggest sources of conflict is that we want a family member to change, but they won’t.  News flash: They will probably never change. So if you keep expecting them to, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  So Uncle John talks too loud? Let him. Mama gets all worked up about everybody being on time. Let her. You can only change you. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You’re here to have a good time.

  • Play!

Take your mind off of the serious stuff, and focus on the positives at the family reunion — such as the 99 percent of the relatives you get along with. One of the 13 happiness triggers I identify in my upcoming book, Happy Women Live Better, is play. Whether it’s bid whist or hopscotch, a family softball game or your niece wanting you to push her on the park swing, play at your family reunion.

Like my mom last Saturday night, savor your family, smile, snap your fingers, and dance a little! Have a good time.

Life coach Valorie Burton is the bestselling author of nine books, including ‘Successful Women Think Differently‘ and ‘Happy Women Live Better: 13 Ways to Trigger Your Happiness’ every day, available for pre-order at www.bn.com/.