The Happiness Extortion

by Jacob Warn

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

So too with happiness. Or so we’d like to believe. But our culture of happiness has long since faded into an Arcadian past, and we are really only left with the sagging branches of a million pine trees, browning, balding and ready for cremation.

Every Christmas, I see people getting excited. Their anticipation for the birth of our Saviour seems palpable in the commercial units they frequent and the turtle-necked films they watch once again. Out come the Christmas card ribbons, in come the Season’s Greetings, perhaps even personalised with a nominal signature, if you’re lucky. Who’s died this year? How sad.

My Grandma has finished her Christmas shopping by Halloween. Everything’s wrapped by Bonfire night. This year, I left mine till Christmas Eve. A Bonsai tree, a just-add-water Cabernet Sauvignon kit, and the home-made promissory note of a ‘cinema token’ sufficed.

Then the day itself.

On Boxing Day, I usually debate the relative merits of consuming all my Christmas chocolate in one go, or eating it in moderation over a longer period of time. If I binge, will my body excrete all the excess in one go? Is that better than allowing tolerable amounts of fat and sugar to drip into my bodily systems over the next weeks?

We return to the shops in a matter of days. I hear others go sooner. Hey Mum, if I return that shirt, I could get two for the same price now! What an original idea. My sister comes home clutching more bags, the savvy shopper. My Grandma gets next year’s Christmas cards from Oxfam. They do booming trade on Christmas stock.

The days will roll on to New Year, climax unsatisfyingly, and then on the twelfth day of Christmas a chorus of domestic women will observe that Christmas decorations make the house look so nice. If only we could keep them up all year.

The house is bare, but the carpet finally clean of pine needles. Christmas presents are filed away in armoires, stuff-drawers and gullets.Having lived through another Christmas, we get to Blue Monday (this year, 18th January), that day officially declared ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Your diet’s forgotten and you’ve realised there’s flab on your bottom; the weather’s finally turned, and joviality’s spurned; the chocolate’s consumed and your belly has irrevocably ballooned.

There is a reason why year on year the Christmas season bloats. Why? Because of a vicious circle of emotional extortion. The period of Christmas promises too much: goodwill to all men, festive spirit, family reunion. So hyped is it that the rest of the year stagnates in melancholic doldrums. This high, like any drug, necessitates a subsequent low, and it is a low that lasts the year.

There is a hypocrisy to Christmas, to its message of enforced elation. And it’s quite simply that it makes us, on average, a more depressed nation. Every year, bigger and bigger it gets, and every year that much more do we need this promised period to make up for the inevitably crap year we’ve just had.

And yet, scientists have proven that there would be enough joy to go around the whole calendar, if we only stopped allowing one period of the year to monopolise it. Share the love, I say, with January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October.

Thankfully, we may in fact see this happening, as our Christmas love gradually seeps into the months before and after December. We must give thanks to advertising agencies and commercial retailers for this. They’ve already managed to tack the posterior New Year sales and the anterior Black Friday onto the Christmas capitalist rush. They’ll be finding another way to get us into the stores with greater anticipation and degradation soon enough.

In the meantime, we’ll all have to furtively hum Christmas carols in July to remind us of the imminent, if only immanent, Yuletide season.

Give a man Christmas, and he’ll be happy for a day. Take it away from him and he’ll find himself happy for a lifetime.


The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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