If there is ever an optimum point for the complete confusion of the human spirit, then it’s Christmas. By this I mean that if there was ever a time that we think we should be happy, that we should be swept away with the season’s promise, then it’s here. It’s a slow build that smolders in the consciousness lit by the last firework of November’s traditions, and one that is so full of expectation that to not feel fully and completely happy is seen as simply unthinkable.
I can tell you with equal measure both the sadness and joy I’ve felt at this time of year. I’ve sat in the depth of Christmas Eve, stockings all neatly hung, daughter just asleep and a blanket of contented excitement gently settling over all of us. This was how it should be I told myself. Pour a glass of this for the cold-hearted world and then things might be better.
In the same breath I can tell you that the following day I sat and cried as my daughter, rightly oblivious of our want for this perfectly happy and magical time, just totally melted down. Christmas was just too much for her at points, and of course, her innocent and free state of existence was simply bypassing all of it. At the time it felt like it was the antithesis of what we should have been feeling. Maybe it was the pressure, maybe I was just being selfish, maybe my mental health was compromised because we should all have been happy. I certainly shouldn’t have been crying, and neither should she, not on Christmas Day?
I can’t help but feel that ‘happiness’ is a concept often mis-sold. It’s a state we strive to obtain but by the very definition of human existence, it’s an impossible place to live in. At least for any length of time. And this can cause us real problems
Let’s look at other examples of how ‘Christmas Syndrome’ can exist. How often do we find ourselves in a situation where the expectation drowns the reality, where the feeling exists that you should be having the BEST time…except you’re just not. Maybe you’ve been on holiday, laying on a sun lounger surrounded by a living paradise but actually, you feel restless and anxious. Maybe you’re celebrating your birthday and should be visibly enamored, absorbing the attention and reflecting it back with love onto your friends and family, except you would rather be sat alone with your quietest thoughts and a will to let it pass over silently and without recognition. I’ve found myself here time and time again, often beating myself up because I can’t be happy. In fact, there have often been times when I’ve questioned whether I would EVER be happy. Why can’t I just enjoy things?
In stark contrast, this isn’t to say that I’ve never been happy. I genuinely have and am the majority of the time, it’s just the shapes that I feel sometimes don’t fit the puzzle that I think they should fit into.
What I’m saying quite bluntly is that there is expectation and there is reality. Expectation is often created by things with ulterior motives. For example, Consumerism is dependent on society being sold a ‘dream’ of happiness that can be exchanged for money. Society demands that we find a career that we are ‘happy’ in so we can get more money to then be even happier. We are told that we must find happiness by being mindful, and that we should sieve our emotional riverbeds to discard any emotions that are holding us back from feeling ‘happy’. We are told that if we are NOT happy then the problem is inside ourselves and one for us to fix and us alone. And so the example of Christmas is a perfect one. Spend money, feast, enjoy everyone’s company, feel true Christmas spirit and don’t for one minute feel anxious or melancholic about it.
And so happiness is often a frustrating wagging tail that we chase. We touch it now and again, sometimes more often than not, but you can’t hold onto that tail constantly or forever. Instead of existing in these constant states we need to think of how we feel as being far more complex than this, almost kaleidoscopic, shifting, changing with one twist to the next. We need to stop trying to grab the tail altogether. Sometimes how we feel is just out of control and we need to somehow be accepting of this. Personally, it’s not that I’m not happy; I really am most of the time, I just struggle when I can’t constantly meet a state of being that doesn’t actually exist.
I think that this a much more realistic way to think of ourselves. Is it human reality for happiness as a state to exist as this utopia that we have to try and strive for. In my opinion, happiness just can’t emit the same unchanging frequencies for a sustained length of time. ‘Periods’ of happiness can exist, but these are accumulations of emotion. Looking back I can pinpoint these accumulations, define happier years, the times in my life that I’ve felt surging confidence and then equally the other times I would prefer to forget and the times I’ve felt the saddest. They have all been collections though, not a fixed and unwavering output. And for most of the time we just exist, we just are. Often without emotional extremes. We’re just living and breathing and eating and going to the toilet.
I think to settle on this, to just to think about it and to hold it in our heads can go a long way during the times that the world puts our souls in the vice. Know that being unhappy is OK, and often, quite necessary. Know that if you are striving for happiness, what are you striving for and for who? Know that if you want to be happy do the things that help you ‘accumulate’ more good feelings.
If I circle back to the beginning, knowing that we are heading towards the Christmas season, this can be both an incredible difficult and happy time simultaneously. We miss loved ones, we see loved ones. We reflect with sadness. We look forward with positive anticipation. We laugh, We cry. Most importantly, none of us will be constantly happy for all of it, and so if you’re left questioning when you will ‘be in the spirit’, be OK with knowing that this constant seasonal euphoria probably doesn’t exist. Instead, take the pressure off yourself by knowing that actually you’re just being a regular complex human being. Know that you might feel great, you might feel melancholic, you might have the best Christmas ever.
Know that all of these things are fine. Know that we’re all there with you and most importantly, know that there is nothing wrong with you, you just can’t feel happy all the time.