I have a number of patients and friends for whom this festive time of year seems gloomy rather than merry, unhappy rather than not, overwhelming but unsatisfactory. So, over the years, I've tried to help both them and me to find ways to get pleasure from the holiday season.
These strategies work:
1. Think of it as a cultural experience. Look, even Jay-Z has to spend Christmas with Beyonce's family, right? Pretend, as you listen to your brother-in-law Pete, that you are a foreign exchange student from, say, Brazil, and that this fellow? Pete? He's really interesting! He bought a new car. It's red. He drinks beer. Now you know his favorite beer. Why is it his favorite? Hoppier. What are hops? What? Time to eat already? Your mother-in-law's crown roast is famous. Find out why.
2. Learn to cook. There is nothing more magical than spending time in the kitchen mixing, measuring, pan searing, frying, or stirring. You'd love to hear more about why Pete switched IPAs or why Uncle Philip thinks his 401K is weighted with bonds, but, unfortunately, you have to go back and make the gravy. Back in a minute. Or soon. Really soon.
3. Keep expectations low. We are talking rock bottom. Look, I believe in Santa Claus, the Maccabees, the Three Kings, and elves as much as the next person. But just because it's Christmas or Chanukah or the New Year or Kwaanza doesn't mean you have to have fun. Don't force the hilarity. Look around the room and find one person you love most. You don't even have to talk to that person. Just think about them. Close your eyes and imagine him or her with you on a long walk. Feeling better?