Why the holidays are good for our mental health

For many people, besides perhaps Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch, the holidays are the most heavily anticipated time of the year. There have been at least 5 million songs composed about it, in fact. The snow flurries through the air, Christmas cards come in the mail from people you hardly know, matching family snowflake pajamas are donned: The holidays really are the most wonderful time of the year.

While The Nutcracker and the hot cocoa certainly help raise morale, I think there is a
secret nugget of joy nestled within the trappings of the holidays that make them a truly magical time.

In our mundane, everyday lives, we study, we work and we study some more. We become
thoroughly ensconced in our work and become hypercritical of ourselves. Work becomes life, and we judge ourselves purely on our success, which, in many cases, is at an impossibly lofty standard. When we fail to reach that 4.0 GPA, we see ourselves as failures. When we don’t get that Microsoft internship, we see ourselves as failures. We can never win; we can never achieve highly enough. Should we just drop out now, get some cats, start playing Sudoku and give up?

We work so hard and think so hard about work that we spiral into self-degrading
thoughts. We compare ourselves and criticize ourselves and become entrapped in our own minds and our own achievements.

The holidays remedy this. The holiday season is the one time of the year that we are
forced out of our personal thought bubble, thinking of our family and friends instead. We think about what they would enjoy as a gift, what foods they’d enjoy as a holiday meal, what winter activities they’d like to partake in with us. There is an expectation that we spend time with our friends, and this draws us out of our habitual self-criticism and puts us in a happier mindset because we are far less critical of our friends than of ourselves. We feel grateful and lucky when we spend time with family and friends, and it puts us in a better state of mind.

What augments the joy is that our friends are not judging us based on our academic merit.
They are judging us on our compassion, dependability, generosity, warmth, humor, kindness — things that really matter much more than finding the Euler Circuit of a dodecahedron anyway — far more. We are finally being evaluated on how good of people we are, not how well we can sell a toaster or speak Italian.

The holidays are a rare opportunity to not define ourselves by how much money we’ve made or how much success we’ve had but by the quality of our friendship and familial bonds. They’re a chance to not be viewed as a grade point average or salary but a good person with depth and a kind heart.

There aren’t many times in the course of the year where we get to lift our heads off of our
desks, look around and appreciate what we have and what we are as people.

I think this is the true magic of the holidays. Relish it while it still awaits us and
remember that it’s okay to be grateful and proud sometimes, even when it’s not the holidays. That might just be the thing that keeps you sane.

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