In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. It’s a questionnaire to measure your total level of stress by tallying up a weighted sum of 43 events that might have happened to you over the past year. They identified 43 life events to put on that survey (no, I don’t know how they isolated the variables), and one of them was “Christmas.”
Already. And this was in 1967, before modern technologies and social changes had amplified the hype to what it is today. Back then, Christmas did make the list of 43, but just barely….it was number 42 in terms of weight.
So what about today? In the UK, Christmas has risen up the list to somewhere around number 6.
Around this time of year, perhaps more than any other time of year, we get all caught up in what we’re supposed to be doing and how that differs from what we’re actually doing. We’re supposed to be killing it in our careers. We’re supposed to be going back home to visit our families, which are supposed to be fantastic safe havens of love and support. We’re supposed to have thoughtful gifts for every single human being with whom we share a single sequence of amino acid pairs
We’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves — a condition we attempt to mimic, perhaps, by enjoying a dozen too many of grandma’s divinity squares. And then we feel guilty because we’re supposed to be better about our diet than that.
And then comes the new year, and we’re supposed to be all repentant for all the things we did wrong in the past year, and we’re supposed to make big, lofty goals for how to turn ourselves into superhuman versions of ourselves in the next year.
And then we’re supposed to follow those.
Do we really enjoy all this? And if we don’t, then at what point did we give up and just let the hype start telling us what to do?
Unless we make a conscious effort to avoid it, the hype affects most people until about six weeks into the new year. Six weeks, according to my trainer friend, is how long it takes after January 1st for the gym to return to its pre-resolution population of exercisers. So I’m (very liberally) interpreting that number to be the amount of time it takes for us to slip back into normal life.
I’m not saying exercise is bad. I’m saying that exercising just because it’s January first doesn’t make a lot of sense. And it doesn’t last. And if it doesn’t last, then why do we entertain it in the first place?
What if nobody likes any of this holiday hype?
It’s not because we don’t want to get thoughtful gifts for people. It’s not because we don’t want to have loving familial relationships. It’s not because we don’t want to eat healthy or work out or do any of the other myriad things we feel pressure to do around this horribly warped three months of the year. It’s because we feel forced to do it in a way that’s just as unproductive as possible.
So I propose an experiment.
This season, I’m going to do the exact opposite of what the hype is telling me to do, and save those activities for other times of year, and see what happens.
There will be no holiday slump. This is the time of year when everyone lets go a little, eats a little more than they mean to, and lets the cold weather keep them off their ‘road work’ (Boron Letters, issue #1). So I signed myself up for a muscle-up workshop. I might embarrass myself. Oops? Oh well.
Also, there will be no bellyaching over what to get anyone. So I’ll choose something nominal but useful, and get the same thing for everyone — maybe bags of coffee, I don’t know. Then, over the course of 2017, I’ll get people thoughtful gifts, but not for a particular holiday. You think I remember what I got for Christmas last year? Maybe I believe I do, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. However, I absolutely remember the time when I was 12 years old and my mother brought me home a little Chinese horse statue from the museum gift shop, on no particular holiday, and not because I had asked for it, but because she had seen it while on an outing with her friend and it made her think of me. Bonus: when it’s not for a holiday, it’s much easier to impress someone with your thoughtfulness because you’re not competing with a pile of other garbage.
There will be no New Year’s Resolutions. A year is far too long to plan ahead, anyway. In late November of 2014, for example, I lived in Louisiana with my dad feeling sorry for myself. In the following twelve months I discovered my grandmother to be a pyromaniac, moved to DC for a research internship, traced money trails between Asian ivory markets and national parks in Africa, read the farsi labels on bags of heroin from Iran, sketched pictures of airplanes, worked as a stand-up comedienne, wrote smut, edited a psychology magazine, moved to Chicago, went to night school, stranded myself in the Caribbean with “fler-da-JER-jah-lahn,” somehow ended up employed as a software engineer, and wrote over 48,000 words of letters to my friends. Do you think I knew any of that was gonna happen in November of 2014? The answer is no, I did not. How do I resolve for that?
Instead, there will be monthly resolutions, because each month is just as much of a month as January and just as deserving of purpose. Also, the resolutions will turn over on the 24th, rather than the first, of each month, because every midnight is just as midnighty as midnight on December 31st, because I like to be a contrarian, and because my birthday falls on a 24th, so one of the resolutions will coincide with my birthday. Nov 24th-December 24th is a resolution to build a phone banking app. I haven’t decided what the next one will be. But on January 1st, I will commit only to living my life just like I was doing on December 31st.
And you know what? I’m pretty excited about my holiday plans.