Feeling Good About Being Bad Are Rooted in Seasonal, Holiday Expectations
There's a reason we make resolutions to improve our behavior on Jan. 1 of each year, and not Nov. 1. Because as predictably as Ash Wednesday follows Fat Tuesday, restraint follows overindulgence.
For many people, the holidays are characterized by happiness, but also intemperance.
Encouraging Bad Behavior
Can you imagine announcing that you are cancelling your gym membership and abandoning your workout routine — and having friends and family smile and express understanding? Or ordering that third Martini or second scoop of ice cream in full view of approving colleagues and acquaintances — some of whom promptly follow your lead?
There is only one time of year you can get away with such behavior, most of which is enabled both publicly and privately by family members and coworkers, and normalized by the media. You guessed it — the holidays. Thanksgiving Day to New Year´s Eve marks a season of excess, for which you will no doubt be paying for on Jan. 1— when the party is over.
The celebration starts on the fourth Thursday in November. Thanksgiving is the only day of the year where overeating is not only expected, but encouraged. We pile our plates so high we can barely carry them, and then complain we have no room for dessert (which of course is never true). Oh sure, we all have those friends who are running the local Turkey Trot 10k instead, but let´s face it, that's not most of us.
Research corroborates Thanksgiving Day indulgence. In "'We Gather Together': Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day," Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould researched the holiday in a multi-method ethnographic study employing two senior co-authors and 100 student collaborators. They describe Thanksgiving Day in the United States as a "collective ritual that celebrates material abundance enacted through feasting."
Describing the consumption theme, they note that the Thanksgiving meal emphasizes quantity over quality, and is replete with themes of stuffing and loading, with dishes like stuffed turkey and mashed potatoes loaded with butter and gravy. In preparation for the meal, they note that some people (reportedly more women than men) actually fast the day of prior to the meal, or diet for the entire week beforehand.
Accordingly, they also recognize the familiar, largely universal after-meal conversation about having overeaten and being (usually overly) full — prompting the predictable discussion about whether to serve dessert immediately or wait until everyone is feeling more comfortable. Regarding the extent of the bounty, Wallendorf and Arnould note that Thanksgiving is a celebration where we are expected to have leftovers for days.
Once we push back from the table, most of us retreat to the couch — to watch television programming, specifically designed for the occasion. From parades, to football games, to TV show marathons, there are plenty of reasons to spend the rest of the day reclining, or napping off the tryptophan. Such lethargy, which is expected and encouraged on Thanksgiving, is not normal behavior for most people, who are lucky to catch an hour in a recliner after work at night or watch an occasional ballgame on a weekend.
After Thanksgiving, instead of starting a diet to work off the excess, we get ready for more. Entering the season of holiday parties replete with festive Christmas cookies, Yule logs, and peppermint hot chocolate ensures that all diet plans are pushed off until after the New Year.
Yes, many of us celebrate our faith and recognize the true reason for the season as well.
We may even join forces with churches and local service clubs in serving food to the homeless, and volunteering time at shelters. Yet we still manage to swing by the store on the way home to buy another container of egg nog just in case "limited edition" or "seasonal" means we might never see it again.
Shopping When You're Hungry — Figuratively Speaking
During the holidays, retailers capitalize on seasonal overspending. Because as soon as the Thanksgiving Day food coma wears off, the shopping spree is on. Whether braving the stampede at the local malls chasing door busters and Black Friday deals, or Internet surfing on Cyber Monday, our wallets are out.
We are prone to overspend if we shop when we are hungry. Not physically of course (we save that for Jan. 1), but mentally, given the competition for the same products as evidenced by the lines of cars and people out at the malls. We are less choosy during the shopping frenzy, worried that if we don´t buy what we see immediately, everything will be gone or "picked over" before we make our selections.
Pacing Makes Perfect
Holiday overindulgence is predictable and preventable. Sensible diet and exercise plans throughout the year budget for holiday excess, and good financial planning involves taking advantage of mid-year sales and bargains, gathering non-perishable gifts and merchandise ahead of time to beat the holiday rush. Happy Holidays!
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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