Disclaimer: This article discusses some cultural aspects of Christmas holidays in relation with personal well-being. No religious, economic or political issues are implied.
So, the holidays are coming and we are all in the hustle and bustle of buying presents, wrapping and unwrapping them. We run around, wondering what to buy. We are also running out of money, running out of time, running out of ideas, running out of patience… Wow, a lot of running this season! And we are still overweight! How is this even possible?!
Ok, let’s take a break, breath a little and see what is this all about? In the movies, they say that Christmas is a magical time, the best season of all. You wonder how could this ever work?
I also used to hate Christmas, you know. Too many high expectations about the wonderful Christmas family time, but in the end, everyone is just hysterical, fat and tired.
But then, in my early 20s are started creating my own Christmas rituals and my attitude changed. Now I like this time of the year, although everyone still ends hysterical, fat and tired :D I just find it somehow cute now.
So, let’s look through some of the most common activities we do during the holidays or feel obliged to do and see how one could survive through them.
Gather around the Christmas Tree
One of the things that happen during the holidays is that family and friends gather and spend some time together. Usually, as I have discussed in my previous articles, spending time with your loved ones is one of the best things you could do for your mental health. And, as we all know, your mental health is not at its top during this mad season, the cryptocurrency crisis, and Steemit heading to who knows where. Well, I need to make a specification here. To make it all work you need supportive loved-ones! Otherwise, you are in trouble :D
Research shows something that we all know. Family time never goes as smoothly as we would like it to go. As Kerry Daly put it in his paper:
Although families have held on to an expectation of a positive experience of togetherness, they are typically left with a feeling that there is never enough, that it is in the service of children, and that they are duty‐bound by it. There is a structural contradiction between the ideas and experience of family time that is typically expressed through disillusionment and guilt. (1)
So, is it ever like the movies? No, definitely not! As Malene Cram points out family time is supposed to be “a relief from stress and chores, giving time for recovery and rest in the pleasant companionship of the family” but let’s admit it that very often it is simply …. a disaster.
When Cram interviewed Danish and German families and asked what makes a holiday a good experience, the answers were of no surprise: family members are content and happy, no nagging, no sulking, and children absorbed with activities (here comes the best part) not necessary with their parents. (2
So it is possible to have a nice cup of coffee with your loving spouse who hasn’t nagged about a single thing all morning while your children are playing around with no one sobbing in your feet about who knows what now… Yes, it is possible! But only for a moment.
Actually, this note is what I find the most important of Cram’s observations. These happy experiences definitely happen but we must refer to them as “situations” or “moments of happiness”. It is never like the movies and it shouldn’t be. It is simply very important to find the little moments and enjoy them as much as you can. Happiness is a perception. No one could do the work instead of you.
Unwrap those boxes
Gift-giving is an essential part of Christmas. However, I am not going to focus here on the consumer part of this activity and our modern consumer culture. I would like just to provide you with a few interesting findings which could enlighten all of us why gift-giving is such a mess of emotions. As we already discussed we all have this picture in our heads of a happy family gathering. Everyone is smiling, while unwrapping their gift boxes, making jokes and enjoying their presents.
But we all also know that giving and receiving gifts could make us anxious. Who hasn’t had these thoughts: “How could I pick such an incredibly stupid present?! She will never like it! What is she going to think of me?” or “He is faking this smile. He doesn’t like it. Oh, God, how stupid am I?!?”, or “Oh, this is an awful present. (voice pitching) I don’t want an encyclopedia, I told Santa I want a bike!”(crying hysterically).
The latter is a real story, a very funny one or at least it was quite funny for my husband and me who witnessed it accidentally in a bookstore in London a few years ago. We were wandering around the bookshelves when we heard a shrill voice: “Oh, no, Daddy, I don’t want an encyclopedia for Christmas again!” An enthusiastic male voice replayed: “Look at these dinosaurs, they are so fun!”. “But, Daddy, you bought me an encyclopedia last year and the year before. I don’t want an encyclopedia again!” (starts sobbing)
Obviously, Daddy wanted an encyclopedia for Christmas but got socks. His son wanted a bike but got the encyclopedia. Life was so unfair for Daddy!
And we have all faked happy emotions while unwrapping. Remember that awful slippers you got and what a huge smile you put on your face?
Research shows that people tend to be more anxious when they are highly motivated to provoke a desired response in the gift-receiver, but they are pessimistic about their chance of success. (3) In other words, you bought your new girlfriend (who has some body image issues) a gym membership card and you are sensing that she wouldn’t be very pleased.
Another interesting fact is that people, in general, are keen on expressing their likes and dislikes when it comes to goods (what a surprise). Furthermore, we, judging creatures, enjoy it! You wonder what it has to do with surviving the holidays? Well, consider asking the loved-ones about their likes and dislikes beforehand and you will save yourself the anxiety of finding an appropriate gift. Another idea is to play a fun game revising your gift exchange during the years and make a worst-gift-ever competition. But be careful! This is a very unsafe road to take :D
Why am I focusing on the dislikes? It turns out that sharing one’s dislikes helps to express identity, as well as creates a sense of self, space and personal and social time. (4) So, maybe there is a silver lining when your kids say that the presents they got sucked?!
Well, yeah, Christmas is a funny experience. But no worries. The gift-issue is (partly) avoidable. SoYon Rim et.al. argued that feasible gifts make the receiver feel psychologically closer to the giver compared to desirable gifts. (5) So, once again, maybe it is better to consider a more practical approach to gifts.
Perhaps you wonder if it is such a challenge why would one bother to give gifts anyway? Well, it is obvious that gift-giving is not an unpleasant experience every single time. There is something more in it which makes us enthusiastic about making a present. Actually, both experimental and correlation studies have shown that people feel happier when they spend their money on others. In 2008 Elizabeth Dunn and associates conducted an experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to spend money on others or to spend money on themselves. Those who spend money on others experienced greater happiness compared to the rest. (7)The effect is best observed when giving satisfies one or more basic human needs like autonomy, relatedness or competence. I will quote the authors of this study because I find their description to be very poetic:
The benefits of such prosocial spending emerge among adults around the world, and the warm glow of giving can be detected even in toddlers. (6)
Hah, how about that? Here is something to teach your children to do and to make them happy for life :D Christmas is not that bad after all, right?
Little by little, we came to the best part of Christmas season – caring for others.
Give to those who are in need
Usually, around the Christmas holidays, we are reminded to be generous toward others especially to those in need. It would be so wonderful if we were generous all year round and maybe some of us are. But let’s admit it: Christmas has this special atmosphere of hope that the world could become a better place and we could all be a part of it. It makes us all more open to simply being there for others. And here is a perk to that:
Being good is actually good for us, too.
Research in the literature shows that altruistic emotions and behaviors are associated with greater well-being, health, and longevity. (8).
On the other hand, a study made by Peggy Thoits and Lyndi Hewwits showed that people who are more satisfied and happy with their lives invest more hours in volunteer service. (9) And then they become even happier. Isn’t it a win-win situation?
But here is a thing that we should pay attention to. Some scientists distinguish different kinds of motivation behind the altruistic behavior. Jochen E.Gebauer and associates divide altruistic motivation into two main groups: pleasure and pressure based. The first group regards people who gain pleasure in helping others, whilst the second group includes individuals who fulfill their “duty”. The study found out that pleasure-based prosocial behavior positively correlated with self-actualization, self-esteem, life satisfaction, and positive affect and negatively related to negative affect. Just on the contrary, pressure-based prosocial behavior was unrelated to the mentioned above, but to negative affect. (12)
As S. Post noted in his article people in EU and US have more material wealth than their parents did. However, sadly there is a decline in charity and household giving in recent years. (8). Reports in 2017 and 2018 show that people in America and UK are spending less money on charity. (10, 11) So, this is an issue we all need to think about.
Please, don’t take this like pressure to help others because it won’t do any good to you and to the others. However, if you are of those people who believe that the world is a just place, you are optimistic about what future holds and it’s up to you to make it easier for others, just keep it that way. This is an illusion which many of us have, but it is a good one. Believing in the “good” of the world makes you more adjustable, contributes to your well-being and even helps you to cope better with an unjust fate. (13)
So sometimes being a full-time skeptic is not the best thing for your mental health. Just think about it, OK?
In a nutshell
Surviving the holidays = Mission Possible
OK, this is too short, I guess :D What I mean is that it is all a matter of the right focus. Actually, we could all return healthier and happier if we simply follow these easy steps:
- Find happy situations and enjoy them
- Spend money on others
- Volunteer or take part in a charity if you feel like doing it
- Be silly for once in your life and believe in the good of the world
Merry Christmas to you all! Let me know how it went!
Created by @insight-out, Valeria Sim
All rights reserved.
- Daly, K. (2001). Deconstructing Family Time: From Ideology to Lived Experience. Journal of Marriage and Family. Volume 63, Issue 2, p. 283-294
- Gram, Malene (2005). Family Holidays. A Qualitative Analysis of Family Holiday Experiences. Journal Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism. Volume 5, 2005 - Issue 1
- Wooten, D. (2000). Qualitative Steps toward an Expanded Model of Anxiety in Gift-Giving. Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 27, Issue 1, 1 June 2000, Pages 84–95
- Richard R. Wilk (1997). A critique of desire: Distaste and dislike in consumer behavior. Journal of Consumption Markets & Culture, Volume 1, 1997 - Issue 2 Pages 175-196
- Rim, S., Min, K., Liu, P., Chartrand, T., Trope, Y. (2018). The Gift of Psychological Closeness: How Feasible Versus Desirable Gifts Reduce Psychological Distance to the Giver. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
- Elizabeth W. Dunn, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton (2014). Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off. Journal of Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol 23, Issue 1, 2014
- Dunn, E, Aknin, L., Norton, M. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science, Vol. 319, Issue 5870, pp. 1687-1688
- Post, S. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2005, Vol. 12, No. 2, 66–77
- Peggy A. Thoits and Lyndi N. Hewitt. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun. 2001), pp. 115-131
- Gebauer, J., Riketta, M., Broemer, Ph., Maio, G. Pleasure and pressure based prosocial motivation: Divergent relations to subjective well-being. Journal of Research in Personality Volume 42, Issue 2, April 2008, Pages 399-420
- Dalbert C. (1998) Belief in a Just World, Well-Being, and Coping with an Unjust Fate. In: Montada L., Lerner M.J. (eds) Responses to Victimizations and Belief in a Just World. Critical Issues in Social Justice. Springer, Boston, MA
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