Author: How To Survive The Holiday Blues
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
It's the holiday season, of course, and everybody should be bouncing off the walls with joy, right? At the same time, over the last few years it has become increasingly acceptable, perhaps even fashionable, to complain about how depressing the holidays can be. Isn't there a middle ground and an appropriately adult reaction to this season?
Last year around this time we called on sociologist and author Bertice Berry for advice on how to manage difficult relatives during the holiday season, so we've called her back for more common sense. She joins us from Savannah, Georgia. Thanks so much for coming in.
Ms. BERTICE BERRY (Sociologist and Author) Thank you.
MARTIN: What is it about the holidays that makes people go crazy, really?
Ms. BERRY: You know what? They are depressing because of our expectations. Our expectations are higher. We somehow expect the Christmas ninja, as my kids say, or Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny to come in and make everything all right. And so, when they're not as all right as our expectations are, then all of a sudden things seem worse because our expectations are so much higher.
MARTIN: But it does seem, though - I don't know if it strikes you this way but it seemed to me that when I was growing up - and you and I, I think, are close in age - that you couldn't admit that all was not wonderful unless we were in a time of war, for example. There was this pressure to put a gloss on things. But now, in a way, it seems like if you're not complaining, there's something wrong with you, although the magazines are filled with articles about how to escape your relatives and - do you know what I mean? Does it strike you that it's either one thing or the other thing?
Ms. BERRY: I think in our tell-all age, it's somehow made it OK to literally tell all, and there was a time when you did not say when things were right. It wasn't fashionable. It wasn't a good thing. Now, you can get in line at the bank and find out about somebody's gallbladder. So you know - and I think talk shows and media have all had a hand in people's ability or willingness to open up and say whatever is going on in their lives.
MARTIN: Well, is there a middle ground how to be a grownup during the holidays?
Ms. BERRY: I think one of the things that we need to do to be grownups during the holidays is really to not so much lower our expectations but change them. I mean, you know, it's kind of silly past the age of 12 that we're whining about not getting what we expected to get or expecting that our relatives are acting any better than they did last year when you invited the crazy people over. Just change your expectations and start to focus on what is.
I think the other thing that we can do that is immediate and necessary that everybody do is that we give something. If you want to feel good about yourself, give something or do something for somebody else. There is this feeling of entitlement that if things are not going our way, then, you know, all is wrong with the world. But if you were to show a little bit more gratitude - and gratitude comes by doing for somebody else - then you'd balance things out so that they're a little bit more normal.
MARTIN: Do you think that people ever get over, if they are so inclined, this kind of childhood expectation that all will be perfect, that the snow will be on the ground, that the perfect present will appear?
Ms. BERRY: You know, I say to my friends all the time, desperation is the world's worst perfume. When you're walking around with this whole attitude of the grownup who didn't get what they wanted as a child, you make everybody else's life miserable. And so what I tend to do is people who I know are single or have gone through a divorce or are a little bit left out, I don't just invite them over for the meal. I invite them over to help cook the meal so that that way, if they have more participation, they have more of a giving thing, there's less a tendency to feel left out, to feel depressed, to feel alone.
MARTIN: What about those who are facing the effects of the current recession...
Ms. BERRY: Right.
MARTIN: And a lot of people are.
Ms. BERRY: Yeah.
MARTIN: And there's been a lot of talk about how a lot of folks are without jobs this holiday season, are having to really cut back on their holiday spending.
Ms. BERRY: Yeah.
MARTIN: And even those who are not facing those circumstances are affected by it.
Ms. BERRY: I spoke to a friend yesterday who heard that she was laid off yesterday. And I said to her, you know, I want you to focus on what is true. You will never be homeless. You have a wonderful family. You have more than 365 friends who you could live with every day of the year and no one would know that you didn't have a home. But more than that, recognize that this is an opportunity for you to focus on what you truly want to do and to focus on doing that.
I really do believe that we go so far out at Christmas that we think somehow Christmas is going to make up for the rest of the days. So go all out, but go all out in doing something for somebody else. Go all out in cleaning out your closet. Go all out in cleaning and appreciating what you have and showing gratitude for the folks who are around you. Go all out in those areas, not in running up debt that you know you couldn't pay for last year - you're still trying to pay for from last year. But go all out with your love and your kindness and respect for humanity, and then you won't have a problem.
MARTIN: Hanukkah starts today. Christmas is this week. People are in various stages of their preparations for these holidays. If you're in this state where you are already having a little bit of dread about this week, what's your best advice, Bertice?
Ms. BERRY: Love the folks who are around you, what you have, respect what you have, be happy for what you have. I can't advise people to do what I do, which is, you know, I don't put up a tree. I don't put up decorations.
MARTIN: I was going to say wait - wait, wait, wait, wait. What? No tree?
Ms. BERRY: I don't do any of those things.
MARTIN: Why not?
Ms. BERRY: Well, I grew up in a very very poor family where we didn't have those things. And so as a result, my mother made us focus on what was true, and that was that we had our health, we had each other and we had a great meal. And so by focusing on those things when I did have enough money to go all out, I realized that what was more important than the allout at Christmastime was the health, the family and the love. Let this time of year be an extension of Thanksgiving where I'm giving thanks for all that I have and not so much expecting a whole lot more.
MARTIN: Well, we're going to give thanks for you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BERRY: Well, I'm not to - please don't write me, email me, and say, you know, you're not a good Christian because there's no tree.
MARTIN: I don't think that the two are related. I don't remember reading that in the Good Book, but...
Ms. BERRY: Let me tell you, let me tell you.
MARTIN: We can look for that but I don't think it's in there.
Ms. BERRY: Let me tell you. My neighbors are like every day going, are you sure you're not going to put something up? You got to put something up. And I tell them, I'll turn on the porch light.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Bertice Berry joined us from member station WSVH in Savannah, Georgia. Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. BERRY: Thank you.
MARTIN: Happy Holidays to you.
Ms. BERRY: Same to you.
MARTIN: And we'd like to hear from you. With the new year coming up fast, what have you resolved to do differently in 2009? Are you going with the usual resolutions - losing weight, saving money - or do you have other changes in mind? And most importantly, how are you planning to make sure those resolutions stick? To tell us more, please visit our Web site on the Tell Me More page at npr.org, or you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That number again is 202-842-3522. And please remember to tell us your name and where you live. Tune in next week and you might hear your resolution on the air.