The holidays are a time when all of our emotions — the good, the bad and the ugly — run perilously high.
And jealousy is no exception.
The combination of family, free time and shopping overload creates a petri dish where everyday jealousy can grow into something monstrous.
Pretty soon, you’re narrowing your cold, dead eyes at every mother’s child, fuming over how much better you imagine the holidays are treating them.
Here are five seasonal jealousy traps and some crucial advice on how to break out of them:
Trap 1: Christmas Party FOMO
While scrolling through your Instagram feed, you’re starting to feel like your friends got invited to a superior class of holiday parties.
Eleanor from Pilates is sipping an eggnog martini on a yacht, Sheila from next door is getting photobombed by Jason Mantzoukas and Tom from accounting seems to be attending some kind of luau, doing Mai-Tai body shots off a 3D-printed duplicate of himself.
Meanwhile, you’re stuck at some low-rent party in the suburbs where the signature drink is Kirkland brand pinot noir, the median age is 52 and there are several sickly dogs roaming around.
You might start questioning your own value.
Why were you denied access to the beautiful people parties?
Are you not a beautiful person?
Are you a social pariah who is doomed to hang out with sickly dogs for the rest of your natural life?
Solution: Remind yourself nobody at those “cool” parties is actually having fun.
Cool parties are far too crowded, which means you'll spend the whole night standing in line, whether it's for the bar, the bathroom or the overrated food truck they’ve hired.
They’re also incredibly loud, so you’ll end up smiling and nodding a lot, and your willingness (or lack of) to engage in totally incomprehensible conversations with people you thought were your friends will make you realize how little you care about what they have to say.
This will, in turn, depress the hell out of you.
And “cool” parties are so homogenous; they’ve got all the same trappings, and they hit all the same beats.
Janky parties may be janky, but at least they have character.
If you’re sitting on a ratty sectional sofa playing Catch Phrase, and the host calls a time out because she has to go drain the tumors on three of her dogs, that’s really something.
Maybe it’s not glamorous or conventionally “fun,” but it offers a totally idiosyncratic Christmas memory that will amuse (or haunt) you for years to come.
Trap 2: You wish you were a gift-giving superstar.
We all know that woman — yes, she's typically a woman — who always gives the perfect gift.
She knocks it out of the park every goddamn time.
It’s because she’s been listening all year long.
She’s had her gifting antennae up, picking up any little mention of what her future recipients might want.
She was listening back in May when Tom from accounting muttered something about needing new garden loppers.
So come December, when she gives Tom those loppers, he feels so deeply understood that he ends up weeping openly in front of the entire office staff.
All you gave him was a PF Chang's BOGO discount card.
He was unmoved.
Solution: Focus on creating your own distinct gift-giving “brand.”
Look, you’re never going to beat that gift-giving virtuoso at her own game, which is to play it straight and attempt to placate the recipient.
Why not reject the idea of giving personalized gifts entirely?
Give everyone the same thing, and make that thing a showpiece.
Become “that guy” who gives everyone in the office a Royal Dansk cookie tin covered in lotto scratchers.
You will be admired for your renegade style, and after a few years of committing to the “cookies and scratchers” gift gag, everyone will have forgotten you were once infamously terrible at buying appropriate presents.
Trap 3: It seems like everyone else has a special someone, and you’re all alone.
If you’re not coupled up this time of year, the loneliness can swallow you whole.
Christmas culture loves love, so images of romantic partners nuzzling under light snowfall are everywhere.
That's all well and good for those in relationships, but for the unwilling singles among us, this creates an emotional minefield where catching the end of a Kay Jewelers' commercial can trigger a depressive spiral that will likely end in sobbing.
Solution: Remind yourself that non-romantic relationships are less problematic during the holidays.
You don’t need to be sharing a bed or a bank account with someone to have a happy, social Christmas.
Meet your friends for drinks, use your extra free time to Skype with family members and never underestimate the connective power of the pet-owner relationship.
Stare into the wide, limpid eyes of your dog, cat or gecko, and remind yourself that you are definitely not alone because here is a creature who would literally drop dead if it weren't for you.
Also, it’s easy to forget that being coupled up on Christmas isn’t exactly a pleasure cruise.
There are disputes over money, disputes over how much time will be spent with whose family and disputes over which goofy pose to strike for the annual Christmas card.
Seasonal togetherness can be a real bitch.
Trap 4: It seems like everyone but you is traveling to some exotic locale for the holidays.
The breakroom is abuzz with talk of Christmas travel destinations.
There are lots of backdoor brags about how “crazy stressful” it is to arrange visas for Laos, or how difficult it is to know how to pack for the sophisticated alpine fashion scene at Chamonix.
Meanwhile, the most exotic place you’re bound for this season is your boyfriend’s uncle’s double-wide outside of Rochester.
Solution: Resolve to be an armchair world traveler this Christmas.
Stack another log on the fire, curl up on the couch and queue up an episode or seven of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown."
You’ll probably end up learning more about the culture and cuisine of Borneo than your friends who actually went to Borneo, as boots-on-the-ground travel is exhausting, disorienting and doesn’t come with Bourdain’s irreverently informative commentary.
And if irreverence isn’t your thing, why not click over to PBS, which will surely be airing a "Rick Steves' Europe" marathon.
Watch the gentle Rick as he tours small towns in Normandy, and listen to his honeyed voiceover as he explains how Calvados is made.
Maybe even try mixing your own Calvados cocktail?
Next, imagine what would happen if Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain collaborated on a new travel show.
What kind of conflict would be generated by such opposed personalities?
Maybe they could compete as a team on some high-octane spin-off version of "The Amazing Race?"
Try writing to CBS Headquarters and pitch the producers this idea.
Call it "Amazing Race: Masters."
They'll green-light it immediately and reward you handsomely.
Look at how much fun you’ve had on your staycation.
Meanwhile, those friends of yours were getting giardia in Laos.
Trap 5: You’re envious of the charities your parents are donating to.
Only a few years ago, when your career hadn’t yet taken off and you were living hand-to-mouth on a barista’s salary, your parents used to write you fat checks at Christmas.
Now that you’re on your feet, they give you sensible grown-up gifts, like a nice watch or a Le Creuset saucepan.
As for those fat checks, now they’re making them out to their favorite charities, like Oxfam or their local NPR affiliate.
Deep down, you know you should be heartened by your parents’ benevolent spirit, but you can’t help but feel somewhat jealous.
Just because you aren’t teetering on the edge of bankruptcy anymore doesn’t mean you couldn’t use that $200 Oxfam is getting.
Or maybe, your parents have volunteered to buy presents for a disadvantaged youth.
You tag along with them to Target to find the items an anonymous child has written on her modest list: pink jeans, a jewelry-making kit and a plush talking koala.
You think about how they used to shop for you with such care and purpose.
Now they just ask you what you’d like in the $80 price range, hit click and call it a day.
Don’t they love you anymore?
Solution: Get over yourself.
You're being dumb.
Of course your parents still love you.
And Oxfam will make much better use of that $200.