Tuesday, December 25, 2012
In the "Room for Debate" blog of the New York Times, experts from various fields of study were asked to opine about why people don't feel happier during the holidays. Professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky says that the expectation we are supposed to feel happier this time of year is often itself the reason we aren't. "High expectations are frequently both erroneous and toxic."
In a companion editorial, history Professor Darrin McHahon says that "Bah Humbug!" reflects the very human tendency in all of us to rebel against the command that we feel happier during the holidays.
The 19th century witnessed the invention of Christmas as a time of schmaltzy good cheer and more secular celebration. Christians had long marked the birth of their savior with glad tidings, of course, just as Jews had every reason to remember fondly at Hanukkah a victory over persecution.
But the rejoicing had always been tempered for believers: The good news of Christ’s birth by his death; the light of the menorah by the darkness of other trials.
Scrooge, whether he knew it or not, was reacting to something new, Christmas without the religion, just the rejoicing. (There is no talk of Jesus in "A Christmas Carol.") To the claim, “Tis the season to be jolly,” he just said no.
It does seem to me that there is enough Scrooge in all of us to account for a similar impulse. Consider it this way. When someone says to you “Have a Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Hanukkah,” they are issuing a command. And even those of us who are nicer than naughty tend to resist — or least get a little grumpy — when we’re continually bossed around.
That is no less true when we are issuing the command to ourselves. Telling yourself to be happy is like telling yourself to fall asleep. It helps to think of something else.
So, as Professor McHahon says, while it's not healthy to dwell in an Ebenezer Scrooge state of mind, don't beat yourself up either for feeling the occasional "Bah Humbug!" during the holidays. It's OK.