If we’re invited to stay at a friend or family member’s home, then there’s already reason for cheer. It means we have loved ones who want to spend time in our company, which is itself something to notice, appreciate, and be grateful for. Next, our attention might turn to how we can make the visit happy and harmonious for all.
When we’re mindful of how to be a good houseguest, we can step into our host’s space on the right foot. By keeping a calm and open mind throughout our stay, and by respecting the rules, routines, and rituals they hold dear, we can maintain our own comfort while also ensuring we don’t step on their toes.
It’s particularly important to be a thoughtful guest during the holidays, when packed houses and other seasonal stressors can put pressure on the host. In these moments — and during any other time of year — etiquette certainly comes into play, but so does meditation, which can help us to manage our own stresses and help us feel grounded and present. With all of these tools at the ready, we can learn how to be a good houseguest so that at the end of our stay, we’re given the ultimate gift: an invitation back.
If we feel at ease, our hosts will too
Meditation can help us feel comfortable in uncertainty
Try 6 meditations for how to be a good houseguest
When we stay in someone else’s home, it can disrupt the rhythms and routines that both we and our host usually follow each day. This can sometimes create uncertainty, which can be a key cause of stress for many.
For the host, this could involve a series of worrying thoughts racing through their mind: Will everything go to plan? Will the kids behave? What if I mess up dinner? If we haven’t seen someone for a long period of time, these concerns can be exacerbated. And similar thoughts may trouble the guest — what to wear, what to bring, and wondering if everything will go smoothly.
Whether we’re in the role of the host or guest, there’s a simple step we can take to ease uncertainty: we can watch the mind. This is the practice of mindfulness. In doing so, we might quickly realize these “what ifs” are nothing more than a worrying storyline, a cycle of anxious thought that can be broken with increased awareness. Ultimately, as we identify and distance ourselves from negative thinking, we begin to lessen its hold on us. Not only does it become easier to manage the feelings, emotions, and physical sensations that may arise when we worry, but it trains the mind to be calmer.
With a less reactive and more open mind, we might even learn to embrace the uncertainty surrounding the visit, allowing it to naturally unfold, moment by moment. A new experience away from our home comforts can be a cause of stress if we allow it to be, but if we’re able to welcome it, the stay can become an enriching and fulfilling adventure.
Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe explains, “There is no shame in not knowing, there is only freedom. An uncertain mind is an open mind. It is a mind that is curious, interested, reflective, and malleable. When we meet life with a genuine sense of uncertainty, we cease to project that which we think we know, and instead begin to see life for what it really is. The same goes for the people around us. It is only in letting go of our preconceptions and opinions of others that we allow them to be who they truly are, to change and evolve from one moment to the next.”
So, while we can’t control our host’s stress levels or the events that will unfold during our stay, we can control the mindset that we bring to the occasion. This, in turn, will influence the experience of those around us. And if things do go awry and don’t go to plan, the ability to stay in the moment — an ability honed by mindfulness — allows us to face every eventuality, without fuss or judgment. And when we adopt that kind of mindset, as a host or guest, everyone relaxes.
There are many guest manners and etiquette tips we’ve likely heard before, picked up from our families or experts in the field, including: Don’t expect anything, clean up after yourself, pitch in for groceries, arrive with a gift, and leave on the day you said you were going to leave.
These are all sound pieces of advice. And, if we zoom out a little, we can see they are, in their own way, rooted in the teachings of meditation and mindfulness, which can help us to naturally be a better guest without the need to turn to a book of houseguest rules.
But missing from this list is being mindful of our mood. Through what psychologists call “emotional contagion,” we can mimic the mood of those around us, similar to how we sometimes yawn when we see someone else yawn. And this can be true of good and bad moods.
So the mood we bring to an occasion can be more important than any gift. And the key to making our host feel comfortable and appreciated can be found within ourselves.
Some of the basic tenets of mindfulness can be used when being a good houseguest. Here are some of these qualities, with suggestions on how to tap into them with the help of meditation and mindfulness.
We often joke about the stress of family gatherings, and sometimes that stress can feel very real. But we should remember how lucky we are to have friends and family to share these experiences with. Gratitude is a great way to counter stress and uncertainty. We can start honing this good habit in our own homes, by making gratitude meditation part of our practice, or keeping a gratitude journal, then continuing the routine when we are a guest in someone else’s house. Headspace co-founder Andy says gratitude is something we can improve with practice. “Unless we take time to train in appreciation — to remember how to be more grateful — then it will never be more than an elusive, fleeting experience,” he explains.
Our ability to understand each other’s feelings and show compassion towards them is crucial to building healthy relationships, and that’s certainly true when we’re a guest in someone else’s home. By putting ourselves in their shoes, we can envision the stress that our visit could cause them, and get ahead of potential flashpoints before they arise. Researchers from Emory University discovered that compassion meditation could improve our ability to empathize with those around us. Despite our contrasting roles in the environment as a host and houseguest, and the different stressors that these positions bring, this shouldn't prevent us from seeing the potential challenges of our visit from our host’s point of view. And to avoid the kind of surprises we would not want as a host, we can be clear about things like our likes and dislikes, and how long we intend to stay, to ensure everything goes smoothly.
“Don’t arrive empty-handed!” is high on many lists suggesting good etiquette when going to someone’s home. That’s certainly a nice gesture, but generosity is about more than turning up with a gift. Andy says: “It is really tempting to think of generosity as what we give to others in a material sense … but we also need to look at the quality of mind itself, our spirit of intention, the spirit of generosity within the mind.” So we can be generous from within, by not being judgmental or critical of how others live their lives. And we can also be generous with our focus, for example, limiting screen time and trying to be fully present when talking to our hosts.
Looking for more meditations to help with being a good houseguest? The Headspace app offers subscribers several courses and single meditations to help with some of the skills and principles that make ourselves and others feel comfortable and respected, including:
Appreciation course. Discover a renewed sense of gratefulness for life.
Kindness course. Foster feelings of compassion towards yourself.
For the Weekend single meditation. Truly enjoy your weekend.
Relationships course. Achieve greater harmony with yourself and others.
Listening to Others single meditation. Practice being fully present when someone else is speaking.
Vacation single meditation. Let go of any worries and enjoy your time away.
By embracing a regular meditation practice, especially as we prepare for a trip as a houseguest, we can learn to feel more at ease in uncertainty and tap into a calm confidence, regardless of what’s going on around us or where we are. And if we continue meditating during a stay at someone’s home — even for 10 minutes a day — we can expect more benefits, too. Like the feelings of structure and familiarity a routine brings us, the comfort of a habit, or the joy of sharing a ritual with interested hosts. After all, a group meditation is a much better “thank you” gift than a melted box of chocolates.