How to have a happy Christmas. Chapter 2
25th February, 20100 Comments
Christmas is celebrated by over 400 million people. That sounds like a pretty big party to me. So just why are people not getting as excited by it as they used to if they did at all. Is it just because we grow up and become boringly adult and sensible with all sorts of responsibilities or are other factors involved? Has Christmas as we know it run its course and needs to be rebranded? For now let’s look at the information I’ve got from people I’ve spoken to. The relevant items I am going to call stressors if for no other reason than that is what they seem to be doing to people. Causing them stress and if they do that they can hardly be helping their cause. I have no doubt that many of you will be able to relate to some of what I say and some may agree and just as many may disagree. You may even have ideas of stressors of your own that I don’t mention.
One of the first stressors that a lot of people mentioned relates to time. Many said they couldn’t understand why advertising had to have a Christmas bias so early. Barely is September over and promotions for Christmas start appearing. Mind you, restaurants will have been promoting their venues for Christmas parties well before that. Yair Amichai-Hamburger in the January, 2010 edition of the New Scientist states that we are in an era of mass consumption. We are surrounded by advertising that urges us to find fulfilment through the acquisition of material goods. There now seems to be a belief that to feel good we must own the latest model or gadget. Commerce plays on the mind here using basic principles of behavioural psychology. Buy the latest techno toy and you will be admired. People will look up to you. People will think you are sexy. They also play to the aversive side of reinforcement. If you don’t buy it you are a lesser being. Stupid. Ignorant. Uneducated. But where is the happiness in owning all these items that flood the market every year? In the same edition of the New Scientist it is reported that Tim Kasser of Knox College, Illinois has researched and found that materialistic people are less happy than those who are less materialistic. Materialism is associated with a lower level of self esteem and a greater tendency to compare oneself unfavourably. Being so also creates a greater lack of empathy but a higher level of being confrontational. This might be reinforced by the increased separation from people that the rise of technology causes. People keep warm and safe by keeping close together, they reinforce each other sexually and they borrow, share or steal each other’s possessions (Skinner B.F Beyond Freedom and Dignity) I shall be looking at the topic of happiness in greater detail later on. Of course, the fact that Christmas is mentioned so early could be a reason why some prepare for it so late. When we hear it mentioned we often think “What? Christmas already? Surely not?” and then make a determined effort not to think about it. Then when we do allow ourselves time to start preparing, having got over the Halloween and bonfire night parties, we find there is only two or three weeks left to plan the party of the year!
Time of year. In the northern hemisphere Christmas is a midwinter festival. It happens just three days after the winter solstice. The time of year when day light hours are at its shortest and the hours of darkness at it’s longest. That’s enough to depress the brightest of people without everything else. In fact, reports say that around 5 million people suffer the winter blues between October and April and half a million in particular suffer with season affective disorder (SAD). With this alone is it any wonder that many people do not look forward to Christmas time?
For some reason, possibly because people’s emotions are at a particular low or because such emphasis is put on jollity and happiness, bad news seems to hit harder than usual at this time of year or do we just seem to notice them more? On December 26th, 2004, a massive tsunami killed around 300,000 in the Indian Ocean. Well that took the shine off that Christmas.
Deaths of loved ones. Rarely is there a time of year more prominent for missing loved ones who have died than this. Christmas, after all, is supposed to be a time of when families get together. It can be even worse for those who have lost family members around this time as it just brings back those harrowing memories of the event.
Charity events seem more evident around this time too. The BBC’s Children In Need for one although that is held in November. Yes, we are often reminded around Christmas of those that “have not” and asked to contribute to help. “But how can I when I barely have enough for my own family. I don’t want to seem a scrooge but….”. A good and relevant point. However, charity at this time of year can help us enjoy Christmas even more and I will mention this later.
Of course it isn’t just Christmas we are thinking about. There is also the new year to contend with. But hang on. That means more parties to plan and prepare for. New year resolutions to think of. More parties to plan and prepare for. Yes it does so add that to the workload.
There are other effects this time of year can have on individuals as well. There may be talk of the new year but what about the talk about the year ending? Sounds a bit sad doesn’t it? Not if you have had a bit of a cruddy year. This is an upside to the time of year. It is a significant time when people can put the bad events of the year behind them and think about approaching the new year with renewed determination and enthusiasm. Many people view new year resolutions with part dread and part hope. The dread part is the effort and work that will need to be put into losing weight or getting fit or whatever they decide to do. The hope part is the impetus it can give people to do just those things. They often fail though because half way through January and they aren’t succeeding very well and they don’t have the support network to help them keep their determination and enthusiasm. “Never mind” that voice in your head says, “You’ll have 7 months to lose that roll of fat so you’ll look good on the beach in August”. But then August gets here and you haven’t lost it.
Of course, all this extra work means you have to change your routine. “Ah” you say, “but a change is as good as a rest” Is it? Wouldn’t you prefer to have some time with your feet up in front of the fire? Of course you would. A possible conflict of interest is that December is often a cold and bleak month. We want to stay in by the fire. It is known that the cold can slow down our metabolism which is how some people have survived while trapped in icy rivers. But it is the party season and that means going out and being active. Apart from ski wear what casual clothing is designed to ward off the cold and look good enough to wear at a party? Do we really want this?
All this suggests is that a big catalyst of anti Christmas feeling is that it isn’t Christmas itself that people don’t look forward to but Christmas time.
Time. What an interesting commodity. You can’t hold it but it governs our lives. At Christmas though we all need to be experts in time management. You have maybe three or four weeks to do what?
Buy all the presents and be sure that they are well thought out so they will be liked.
Prepare a week’s feasting. Well, it may not be that much at the time but if you prepare for a week then you should have enough.
Go to those parties you must go to or be ostracised for the rest of the year.
Go to whatever nativity plays your children are involved in. Miss one and you’ll be cast as worse than the wicked witch in the panto which is also on the agenda because it is a kid’s thing and you do do it every year.
Then of course there is the carol concert which you have always done since you were a child.
Somewhere amongst all this you must find time to go to work doing that full time job that will help pay for all this.
Now then. Have I forgotten anything? Oh yes. Me. When am I going to find time to sit down and put my feet up? Hang on. You can’t do that! You’re super parent.
Hang on though. What happens if something goes wrong? With so little time to spare what will you do if a spanner is thrown in the works? What if someone is ill? So many people are at Christmas it is so sad!
What if someone dies? It does happen. Only two years ago your friends’ mother in law had a stroke……
What if the house gets flooded? I knew we shouldn’t have moved near a river.
What if….? What if….? What if….? So many things and yes, they could all go wrong. But what would you do if they did? You would get on with it so stop worrying!
An added stressor to the time management aspect of this time of year is that the last time you did preparations of this sort was, well, a year ago. What did you do then? Panicked. Got stressed and ran around like the headless bird you intend to consume on the 25th. At the end of it there is one very important thing to remember. Christmas is just another day. It happens every year at the same time. If things go wrong one year then you have a whole year to wait and worry about getting it right next time.
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Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
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