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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

Ten Ways to Fight Joy in Your Life

The holiday season is upon us, and we find ourselves surrounded, except in malls and parking garages, by smiling, gracious people imbued with its joyous spirit. "A kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time," says Scrooge's nephew, Fred. "The only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely."

So it's as understandable as reaching for a fifth helping of Aunt Amy's Squares that you would find yourself beset with cheerful thoughts. But you don't want to be! "Don't make me feel happy!" says Marsha Mason in The Goodbye Girl, when Richard Dreyfuss finally starts romancing her. "I hate that 'Goddamn, it's wonderful to be alive!' feeling!"

Never mind how you're going to get through the next four weeks without porking up. Here's what you can do to fight the joy, both large and small, in your life.

1. Notice What's Wrong

Experts agree that optimists who perpetually scan life's clouds, seeking a rainbow or a silver lining, are the first to be run over by speeding commuter trains. Well, of course; they're not looking both ways when they cross the tracks!

People who always look on the bright side "are really a bunch of simps," according to Neil Adenoid, an aggressiveness trainer in Rapid City, South Dakota. "If you try to cast positive events in a negative light, and seek out the worst-case scenario, you can turn every joyful situation into a horrible one."

2. Find the Little Kid in You

As we all recollect from our childhoods, nobody can be as mean, nasty, and downright vicious as kids. Or, at least, it's less subtle than later in life. Excluding. Bullying. Calling names. Pointing out to the entire freshman class that you dressed so hastily in the dim confines of the locker room after gym that you have your skirt on backwards. As Dave Barry says, "Those childhood memories! I still have them, though I can control them with medication."

3. Embrace Holiday Traditions

Indulge in those holiday traditions that have always made you miserable. Visit aged relatives you haven't seen in the past 12 months so they can make you feel guilty for never visiting them. Make holiday foods like latkes that you don't like to eat. Spend New Year's Eve alone, with a broken VCR and the dribs and drabs of alcohol left over from the other holidays, thinking of all the things you failed to accomplish this year.

4. Avoid Holiday Traditions

Of course, the flip side of this advice is to avoid those holiday traditions that make you happy. Let your spouse and kids decorate the house so you can spend the next 30 days annoyed that they never put up half the stuff and what they did is in the wrong place. Miss favorite holiday shows you've waited a whole year to see. Tell people you don't want any presents; you want them to donate the money they'd spend on you to charity instead. Hah, hah! Just kidding!

5. Fight Joy in All the Right Places

As we all know, you cannot get joy from material things. Doesn't that work out nicely for those of us who don't want to be joyful! I don't know about you, but I've had my eye on the Jura-Capresso Impressa F9 Fully Automatic Espresso Coffeemaker, a steal at Williams-Sonoma at $1,799.

6. Overextend Yourself

Take on lunatic extra assignments at work that everyone else is avoiding because of the holidays. Plan a lengthy list of presents from your kitchen. Dig out grandma's favorite recipes that take forever to put together (it worked fine for her because she spent all her time baking!).

Old-fashioned fudge that you test by making it form a ball in the pot, but it never does. So what you end up with is old-fashioned frosting (the kind that doesn't spray on).

Holiday breads baked in coffee cans. Since you only buy whole-bean Starbucks, you'll have to prowl the neighborhood nicking cans from people's recycling bins.

And of course, tray after tray after tray of cookies.

If you don't know a pastry tube from a tube of lipstick, so much the better! In no time at all, your home will look like Santa's workshop, but a whole lot messier, and you yourself will be unkempt, irritable, and jittery from all those extra lattes.

7. Go Shopping

If anything can drive the holiday spirit from you, this can.

8. Put on a Nasty Face

Curse out other drivers. Glare at fellow shoppers. Stalk through crowds gazing fixedly ahead at nothing, talking incessantly to yourself. People will mark you down as either a well-dressed but demented street person or the owner of a hands-free cell.

9. Attend the Office Party

As the revelers get ginny, this is the perfect opportunity to witness the naked ambition, maundering self-reproach, and mortifying lack of inhibition that are the true essence of so many of our coworkers' personalities. If that doesn't get you down, you can spend some time contemplating this year's stingy spread of hors d'oeuvres and cheesy box wines in the conference room compared to last year's Boat House extravaganza.

10. Share the Misery

When you do achieve that state of perfect wretchedness, don't keep it to yourself. Share it with your fellows! Remember, the holidays are all about giving!

Do you direct traffic at carpool? Make a burgeoning line of drivers wait a full 20 minutes while you let every living creature in the other line through. In social services? Dump a bunch of your clients on the street to make your year-end budget look rosy. In finance? Mishandle depositors' funds so they lose their life's savings!

And don't forget our holiday mantra. Say it all day. Say it every day:

Bah. Humbug.

© 2003 Elaine Langlois