Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Christmas but only if you want to - there's no law about it

Photo by krisdecurtis (Flickr)

Avoiding an unhappy Christmas creates problems

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 11th December:

There is no law written down anywhere that obliges you to have a Happy Christmas.

I think that is important to say at this time of year. The marketing industry would have us believe that everybody else is going to have a wonderful Christmas because they’re buying the right drinks, driving the right cars, wearing the right clothes, eating in the right places and, well, generally doing everything right.

Every man, this myth would have it, has a glamorous girlfriend or wife on whom the snowflakes fall gently under the stars as Santa appears around the corner in his sleigh. There is a blazing log fire inside. The children are all cute and would never dream of calling you, their father, a dork.

Of course, it’s not true. Moreover, we know it’s not true but somehow we contrive to feel aggrieved or even guilty if we are not happy enough at this time of year.

The problem with insisting on being happy at Christmas is that we can inflict extra pain on ourselves and on others when we fail to achieve this ideal. Drinking too much, taking drugs, fighting with people and brooding and moping are all things we do to try to get rid of negative feelings. Very often, though, we would do better to allow ourselves simply to experience the negativity which, if it is allowed to, will pass. Allowing it to pass means not talking endlessly to yourself about what’s going wrong but getting on with whatever it is you need to do today.

Other people
Consider the matter of involvement with other people. This is the time of year when most of us have closer contact with colleagues, friends and relatives than at any other.

That’s fine. We need involvement – it’s good for our mental and physical health. But we need to be able to accept that not all of this involvement will be unalloyed fun.

For instance, some people simply do not enjoy office parties at which you get to spend ages listening to some very drunk person explaining to you how he would reorganise the purchasing department if only the management had the good sense to put him in charge.

Similarly, visits to relatives are not always an unalloyed pleasure around Christmas. Some visits will be boring, others irritating . But despite the irritations, we know involvement with other people can be life-saving. We are less likely to be depressed and less likely to take our own lives if we have good relationships with others.

But to be with people we have to have the capacity to put up with feeling negative some of the time. We humans are contrary. We can be a bit spiky with other humans. We tend to be motivated more by what we want than by what the other guy wants. So we’re not as easy to be with as we would like to imagine.

Develop tolerance
Therefore in order to be with people we need to develop a tolerance of discomfort and annoyance because these are all part of the package.

I think this is especially so around Christmas Day and St Stephens Day. What seems to happen is that people who can usually tolerate each other good humouredly for an hour at a time are put into a sort of social pressure cooker and made to stay there for hour after hour. The pressure rises as alcohol is applied. And yet if people can get through the day without the lid blowing off, they are likely to feel a glow of well-being for having been there.

But what will blow the lid off is the person who cannot tolerate being irritated or discomfited and who makes sure everybody else gets to know about it.

Now, I would like you, me and everybody else to have a happy Christmas. But if you are going to be unhappy or irritated, at least don’t worsen the experience by feeling angry, guilty or aggrieved about the fact.

In short, if you want to be unhappy or fed up go right ahead and be my guest. Bah. Humbug.

1 comment:

73man said...

Good article Padraig and thanks for stopping by my own little runt of a blog the Daily Male.