Take the Happy Out of Your Holidays This Year

Released: 12/10/2010 12:55 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Wake Forest University
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Newswise — Eric Wilson doesn’t want to be happy for the holidays. And he thinks you should try taking the happy out of your holiday, too.

But don’t call him Scrooge. He simply suggests that “happy” is an unreachable goal – especially around the holidays.

“When you wish someone a happy holiday, you don’t know how much pressure you might be putting on them,” says Wilson, author of the book “Against Happiness.” “The concept of constant happiness around the holidays forces people to repress too many other authentic feelings.”

He contends that experiencing emotions including melancholy and even sadness can lead to greater joy in the end. But you’ll never get there if you’re trying to plaster a smile on your face from November through December.

Wilson speaks from experience. He has long struggled with depression and is being treated for bipolar. He says the season’s tidings of good cheer can devastate vulnerable people, like those dealing with mental illness. Under the pressure of such expectations, those people get sadder and sadder.

“I have trouble with Christmas,” says Wilson, the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest University. “Sentimentality goes into overdrive and we all glut ourselves on false expectations.”

Before his daughter was born, he did his best to avoid the seasonal celebrations. Now he focuses on simple, intimate gatherings – baking cookies together, for instance.

“The holidays should be a time when we try to connect in more intense and creative ways with those that we love,” he says.

Wilson put forth his theories in his book, “Against Happiness.” He says that America’s obsession with happiness – cemented when the founding fathers included the “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence – threatens to kill creativity and innovation. He sees melancholy, the opposite of happiness, as the incubator of great change and allows us to recognize joy when it comes our way.

Think of George Bailey in the Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he says. He had to explore the worst of his life before he could understand how much love and support he really had.

“It made him understand what is valuable in life,” Wilson says. “That is what sadness can give you.”


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