By Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.
December 7, 2006
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The days are cold and the nights are colder. We have suddenly arrived at winter. And oh yesÖitís holiday time once again. There is no golf. There is no baseball. There are no leaves on the trees. We retreat to our respective lairs and attempt to enjoy Sunday football. Yet the sun sets at 4PM and the depression is dying to settle in. We call this Seasonal Affective Disorder in the circles I hang with.

We all know these things and we know that holidays are designed to remedy the winter blues. We canít use outdoor sports, so gift giving and gift getting is all that remains. We gaze at the pretty lights on the pretty trees. We look under the pretty tree to see even prettier packages wrapped in green and red. But very often these gifts will not do the trick. When is the last time you got a gift that actually made you happy for more then 2.5 seconds? The promise of Xmas joy is usually a false promise. And why is this so? Why do we year after year rush about like madmen and mad women spending money we do not have and traveling to places we do not want to travel to, only to end up empty?

What we do get for our efforts is disappointment and even despair. What I see is lots more road rage and angry drivers stuck in traffic jams around the mall. Welcome to an American tradition its holiday time again.

I have begun to notice a nihilistic despair surrounding Xmas. Too much anger to deal with. Virtually every patient I see complains of anger and depression this time of year. Like a wave nihilistic despair is due to our skewed values. We need only turn to sports to understand this. As Americans we value winning. Winning is the essence of sports. If you win you are worth something and if not you are a loser. If the Yankees win the World Series we love them but if not, we abandon them as losers. If you are Tiger Woods you are OK but if youíre not Tiger Woods you donít even exist. Phil Mickelson, who's that?

The message we receive from sport is that you must win or you are nothing. This translates into our need to show others we are the winners. So take a look at what I own and you will see how good I am. It is no surprise then that the holiday season is a season best characterized as a shopping frenzy. And it is no surprise that we all come up empty on Xmas morning.

We live in a competitive culture and sports support these values. This is OK until one realizes that we do not find happiness this way. If joy is not found on Xmas morning and is not found in the gifts under the tree then where is the joy and how do we find it?

Let us turn to sports to learn more. Does anyone think that the joy of sport is found during the award ceremony when one picks up the trophy? I won many trophies in college for playing golf and won many awards, most of them I never bothered to pick up. They would accumulate in the athletics directorís office and one day he asked me angrily why I never bothered to go to the awards dinners. I told him it didnít mean too much to me. I loved playing golf, not getting the trophies.

And so it is at Xmas. The joy is in what you do in your job and how you spend each day of your life. The joy is not in what is in the pretty gifts under the tree and the end of the year. If you enjoy your life and your family, you ought to be happy at yearís end. If you are not happy throughout the year chances are Xmas morning will greet you with depression. The joy of the holidays is in understanding that you live a good life and are having fun with it. The joy is not found in all those pretty packages that we spend so much time in buying.

In the last part of the last yearís childrenís film Polar Express, the boy finds that the true meaning of Xmas is in the little jingle bell that only he can hear. I think that jingle bell tells us that life is a worthwhile affair if you can still hear the jingle each day. If you can still have fun each day. So whatís the answer? Are you having fun yet? Have you heard any jingles lately?