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Podcast: How to Survive a “Not Bad” Christmas

There are all kinds of suggestions out in the world about how to survive a bad holiday… holidays with people you don’t like, holidays with too many people, all kinds of bad holidays. But what about those holidays that are… well… not bad? Maybe not optimal, but in no way awful. Gabe and Vincent talk about how they are each spending Christmas this year, both of them having the “not optimal” version, but also a “not bad” version. Listen to hear their plans, and why they’re totally okay with not having their preferred holidays.

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Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health –  with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.

Gabe Howard: My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales. Vince!

Vincent M. Wales: What?

Gabe Howard: Merry Christmas!

Vincent M. Wales: Thank you. You too.

Gabe Howard: Why, thank you. I love that we’re leaving the idea in people’s heads that like we spend Christmas together.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah, yeah. We don’t.

Gabe Howard: We don’t, because we have we have better options?

Vincent M. Wales: Well, well plus the fact that we’re recording this before Christmas, so…

Gabe Howard: People don’t know that!

Vincent M. Wales: They do now. They do now.

Gabe Howard: No, no it’s Christmas Day while we’re recording it, even though it’s gonna come out a week before Christmas, we recorded this on Christmas Day. Santa Claus came down the chimney. There was stockings hung with care. There was the Grinch or you may know him as Vincent M. Wales, co-host of the podcast.

Vincent M. Wales: That was so predictable.

Gabe Howard: Where’s the tree?

Vincent M. Wales: It’s still November as we record this.

Gabe Howard: Oh, you’re breaking the fourth wall. Who do you think you are? Deadpool? Vin, one of the things that we want to cover this year are survival tips for Christmas and there’s so much written on the internet about how to survive Christmas with angry relatives and how to survive Christmas with…

Vincent M. Wales: You name it.

Gabe Howard: Yeah I mean it just… there’s a lot of people this time of year that aren’t in the best way and they just want to get by. So we wanted to go on a little different direction because I think that we can relate to it. We wanted to talk about surviving Christmas that’s still a good Christmas, but in less than ideal circumstances. For example, my best Christmas would be surrounded by my grandma and my grandfather and my mother and my nieces and nephews. But I’m married, so I have to spend Christmas with the in-laws. Now, spending Christmas with your in-laws doesn’t immediately make it a bad Christmas; it’s just a less than ideal one. Does that make sense?

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah. I agree. Been there, done that. Yes. So I get it, In my case, I would… my ideal Christmas would also be to be with my family at home and surrounded by you know all the dogs and kids and everything. But that’s not always feasible for me.

Gabe Howard: And it’s not feasible for you because you moved across the country.

Vincent M. Wales: Yes, I’m across the country. Yeah.

Gabe Howard: A lot of people probably don’t realize that, but as a lot of people know, we grew up in the same small town, but now you live in California and you left all your relatives behind and so as much as people probably think that podcasters are independently wealthy and could just jet set all over the country to be with the people they love… Yeah…

Vincent M. Wales: Hate to bust that illusion for you, but no.

Gabe Howard: That’s just too bad. So let’s talk about ways to survive Christmas in less than ideal circumstances that are still pretty good even though it’s not exactly that we want. And the first thing right out of the gate is it’s probably not a good idea to go into Christmas saying this isn’t my first choice.

Vincent M. Wales: That’s fair. So should you go in saying it’s going to be?

Gabe Howard: This is my second choice.

Vincent M. Wales: [laughter]

Gabe Howard: Remember the Meatloaf song “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad”?

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah yeah.

Gabe Howard: Well in my case, it is Christmas, I’m off work, I am surrounded by people who love me. My wife is with me and that’s of course wonderful. And do I wish that my family could be there? Yeah absolutely. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t, but I am very happy that my wife gets to be with her family because that’s meaningful to her. So I could sulk and ruin it for her and and be “that guy.” And listen, I’ve been “that guy” in years past, but all that did was kind of suck the Christmas joy away from those around me. And that’s not a very good gift to give to you know your spouse or that people that you love. So I I’ve tried to keep that in mind as I’ve matured. But your case is a little bit different, Vin. How are you spending Christmas?

Vincent M. Wales: This year, I am spending Christmas.. including Christmas Day, not just around that time… but I’m spending Christmas Day up on the Humboldt County coast, up in Arcata specifically, which is one of my favorite areas. It’s it’s beautiful, it’s you know, next to the ocean and there’s redwood trees and it’s a really cool place. So that’s where I’m going to be for approximately a week.

Gabe Howard: But specifically – and all anybody listening to this podcast is going to care about – is that you’re gonna be alone on Christmas.

Vincent M. Wales: This is true.

Gabe Howard: Now isn’t that like sad? I mean shouldn’t we all immediately feel sorry for you and you feel sorry for yourself?

Vincent M. Wales: If you are so inclined to feel sorry for me, I can’t stop you. But I don’t look at it that way. You know it is again it’s not the ideal situation that I would prefer not to do that, but of the remaining choices, if going home is not a choice then this is this is my second best choice.

Gabe Howard: Now that’s that’s curious and I want to ask some questions about that because a lot of people would think that’s not your second best choice. It means that everybody in California hates you and won’t spend time with you. And as somebody who lives with depression, it would be easy to fall down that path. Why is nobody inviting you to their house on Christmas, Vin? You’re an orphan.

Vincent M. Wales: It has happened in the past and on a couple of occasions… I once accepted an invitation to spend Thanksgiving with one of my co-workers and her extended family and I once spent Christmas Day with a different co-worker and in his family. As an introvert and somebody who is not comfortable around large groups of people, the Thanksgiving thing was painful for me. The only people I knew were my co-worker, her husband, and their kids. I didn’t know anybody else there, so I felt like the outcast. I was the outside person who was who was brought in and I never felt comfortable. You know I was deeply appreciative of my co-worker for inviting me in the first place…

Gabe Howard: But that’s a really good point. So you bought into the idea that you can’t be alone on a holiday so you chose what you thought was the best decision. You’re not going to be alone on the holiday, so therefore you’ve solved the problem and that should have led to a better holiday. But you’re saying you didn’t enjoy it as much.

Vincent M. Wales: If I’m honest, Gabe, no. I did not expect that it was the best choice for me.

Gabe Howard: Then why’d you do it?

Vincent M. Wales: I guess out of politeness. They were they were kind enough to invite me and practically insist on it. So I said OK you know I’ll do this.

Gabe Howard: So you want out of obligation. And they probably insisted upon it because they don’t like the idea of somebody being alone on a holiday.

Vincent M. Wales: Exactly. Yes. And those exact words came out of their mouths. Yeah. “You can’t be alone today” or tomorrow or whatever day it was, you know, come be with us.

Gabe Howard: And that’s an interesting thing to consider. Why are people so…

Vincent M. Wales: Because they can’t imagine it for themselves therefore they can’t believe that anybody else would be OK with it either.

Gabe Howard: And I want to tell you I don’t want to be alone on a holiday. I don’t like it. And I know that you’re an introvert and I’m an extrovert, but I don’t think that’s what it is. I think that there is so much conditioning that holidays are about friends, family, loved ones, joy, sharing, community… that that the idea of not being a part of that just just just makes me sad. But but why?

Vincent M. Wales: Why?

Gabe Howard: I mean I’m asking you because you have… Listen, Vin, this is not an age joke. But you’re you’re not a young man. This is… we’re not talking to a 20 year old guy who’s spending his first Christmas in California away from his family.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: You’re you you’ve done this for a long time and you have made a decision that this is the best decision for you and I think again, even me, and even I’m thinking maybe you should go into debt and fly back to your families because again, you can’t be alone on Christmas.  [gasp] You can spend Christmas with me and my in-laws.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah. I don’t I don’t think so. I don’t know your in-laws and I’m sure they’re lovely people, but I don’t know them.

Gabe Howard: Some of them are OK.

Vincent M. Wales: And therefore I would not be comfortable with that.

Gabe Howard: But you would be comfortable alone. And that’s really the point of this. You’ve established that, look, even though the people from the outside looking in might think that this is a sad thing to do, it’s not. And if you bought into that line of thinking, you would wake up on Christmas morning all by yourself, decide that the rest of the world is looking down on you, and feel badly.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: So you would set yourself up to fail if you thought this way.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: So clearly you’re not thinking this way.

Vincent M. Wales: No, I’m I’m looking at it this way. True, I’m not in my ideal situation but I am going to be spending it in a place I love that I don’t get to go to very often because it’s a long drive. And that’s that’s a nice thing. That’s a nice thought to be able to go out there.

Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after this word from our sponsor.

Narrator 2: This episode is sponsored by, secure, convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you.

Gabe Howard: Welcome back everybody. We’re discussing less than ideal Christmases that are still pretty darn good. I remember early early early on in my adult life – and by early on, I mean like 21 year old – I had to work on Christmas. I worked on Christmas Eve. I worked on Christmas Day. And full disclosure I got like triple time and a half so I desperately needed the money and that was worth it but it made me so incredibly sad. I just thought I can’t… But everybody went on with their holiday and I missed it. And that’s exactly how I framed it in my mind.

Vincent M. Wales: You missed it.

Gabe Howard: I missed Christmas.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: I didn’t get Christmas this year and that made it even worse for me. And the reason I’m telling this story is because when I look back on it now… you know, now I’m I’m past 40, Vin. I’m not a young man anymore.

Vincent M. Wales: That was half your life ago.

Gabe Howard: Yeah literally. And I think you know that that’s not what happened. I made a good decision. I was married at the time and she went and spent Christmas with her family. So she was taken care of and she was happy and we really needed the money. We were just starting out. So I put my family my my little new family in a good position. That was a that was a massive paycheck at a time that we needed it. And listen, I also helped the organization that I worked for. Listen, you know I worked for the power company. You know what people really need on Christmas Day?

Vincent M. Wales: Power!

Gabe Howard: Power. So I did my part. If I would have looked at all of that, I wouldn’t have been so miserable on Christmas Day.

Vincent M. Wales: But you didn’t.

Gabe Howard: But I didn’t. I had the oh woe is me face.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: And the reason I had the oh woe is me face is because everybody around me were like, oh you have to work on Christmas. And I bought right into it.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: So one of the reasons I want to talk about this and why we spent some time on it is because I am shocked at the number of people that feel bad for you, Vin. You don’t feel bad for you. But all these people feel bad for you, including me! I’m going to call you Christmas Day and be like, Hey buddy… I’m not gonna lie. Wait for the call.

Vincent M. Wales: Ok. So obviously you can’t speak for the other people but you can speak for yourself. Why do you feel sad for me?

Gabe Howard: Because Christmas is about family and community and being together and singing Christmas carols and all these traditions and you can’t have a tradition where you’re all by yourself. Vin, nobody should be alone on Christmas. Isn’t that like every Hallmark movie ever?

Vincent M. Wales: Pretty much.

Gabe Howard: I’ll be home for Christmas. The snow storm won’t stop me. Elvis is going to be… it’ll be a blue Christmas without you.

Vincent M. Wales: [laughter]

Gabe Howard: There are hundreds of thousands of people that are just so enamored with this idea. We’ve made a billion dollar industry of it. That’s even before we get to Christmas. We’ve made a billion dollar industry about not being alone for Christmas.

Vincent M. Wales: Right. Right. So you’re saying that you bought into all that.

Gabe Howard: I’ve completely bought into all that.

Vincent M. Wales: OK.

Gabe Howard: And I don’t know why. I would bet that the people listening to this show are thinking, huh, that’s a really good point. I mean dude seems OK with it. Why do I feel bad for him? I’m sitting here across from you and I’m thinking dude seems OK with it, but maybe he’s stupid.

Vincent M. Wales: [laughter]

Gabe Howard: But then I’m going to do the other thing that people seem to hate. And there is not a multi-million dollar enterprise around spending Christmas with your in-laws. But there’s still a lot of people that feel bad about it. There’s a lot of conversations like hey what you do for Christmas? In-laws. Oh…

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah. Yeah.

Gabe Howard: And you know, I want to be the first to say that I don’t have some negative tragic tale about how my in-laws beat me or put me in jail for…

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah. We we agreed not to talk about that.

Gabe Howard: We agreed. Yes yes yes yes. But no. My my in-laws are fine people. They’re just not my people.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: And isn’t that the rub?

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: It’s not that they’re bad people. It’s not that I dislike them. It’s not that I don’t like spending time with them. It’s that it’s Christmas and I’m supposed to be with my people.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: Supposed to be me my people.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: And more specifically – my traditions.

Vincent M. Wales: Right!

Gabe Howard: So when I hang out with my wife and her people, it’s her traditions. And you know what that means – if I’m doing her traditions, I’m not doing…

Vincent M. Wales: Right. You’re not doing yours, you’re doing alien traditions.

Gabe Howard: Which means I’m missing my traditions, which means that I missed Christmas.

Vincent M. Wales: That’s so sad, Gabe. I feel sadder for you than for me right now.

Gabe Howard: You could call me.

Vincent M. Wales: I could. [laughter] I’ll text you.

Gabe Howard: You’ll just send me a text. Merry Christmas, I hope you’re doing well. I’ll text back, save me help. My mother makes better noodles than this lady. But sincerely, isn’t it… it really does seem that some of the reasons that we have these bad holiday experiences and these bad Christmas experiences isn’t about what we’re doing,.

Vincent M. Wales: But what we’re not.doing.

Gabe Howard: But what we’re not doing.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: And it isn’t that just a way to set yourself up to fail? I’m not going to pay attention to what I am doing. I am instead going to entirely be focused on what I’m not.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah exactly.

Gabe Howard: How do we get around this?

Vincent M. Wales: Just quit it.

Gabe Howard: Oh! Stop it!

Vincent M. Wales: Exactly.

Gabe Howard: You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen,the great Vincent M. Wales has solved the problem.

Vincent M. Wales: Yup, just stop doing this.

Gabe Howard: Stop it.

Vincent M. Wales: Well you know it’s like so many things in life, you just have to have an attitude adjustment. You need to look at things from a different perspective. And like you said, you know our instinct is to look at what we’re missing out on. Instead of what we are having. And that’s that’s kind of backwards.

Gabe Howard: It really is. In therapy circles, that’s called reframing, and as a guy that lives with bipolar disorder, I see a lot of things in a lot of weird ways. We’ll just leave it at that. Reframing has become a powerful tool for me because it really is easy to fall down the rabbit hole on what you’re missing.

Vincent M. Wales: Sure.

Gabe Howard: I do love my grandma. I do want to spend Christmas with them. My mom’s noodles are the best. Their cookies are better, they just are. But I gained so much more and if I embrace the traditions from my wife then I can build those traditions so that someday when I’m 60, I’ll want those traditions because they’ll just become normal and then we get into that problem. This Christmas is abnormal.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: What other people are doing is normal. And I think we need to defeat that because the reality is is that this is nonsense. We’ve heightened this up in our brains that there is a normal way to do things. You realize every tradition my family has is just a bunch of random stuff that we’ve been doing and we have no idea why. It’s not extra meaningful. It’s not powerful, it doesn’t make us have a good year a good Christmas. We’re just used to it.

Vincent M. Wales: Exactly. Yeah. And because we like what’s familiar we’re comfortable with it.

Gabe Howard: We do.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah. Now to be fair, too, Christmas… a normal Christmas for my family has certainly changed over the years because, well, the family gets bigger. Kids grow up, they have kids of their own. And the next thing you know instead of having you know a nice little half dozen people you got a dozen, two dozen sometimes, people in the same house and as an introvert, wow… that that can be draining for me. And doesn’t mean I don’t don’t love everybody, love their kids, because I do you know they’re great people and I miss them. But but yeah that it’s overwhelming sometimes.

Gabe Howard: And that is a very interesting thing that you said there, that Christmases have changed. See when I think of my family’s traditions, I’m seeing every tradition from the eyes of like five year old Gabe, again I’m over 40 years old… my mother still makes me a stocking. I apologize. Santa Claus still leaves me a stocking on Christmas morning.

Vincent M. Wales: It’s really nice of him.

Gabe Howard: That is nice of him. He’s a good guy and you know he could always find me no matter whose house I’m at.

Vincent M. Wales: It’s almost like he works for the NSA.

Gabe Howard: That’s clever. Maybe it’s like instead of the National Security Agency, it’s the National Santa Agency.

Vincent M. Wales: Ooooh…

Gabe Howard: Maybe we’ve been saying it wrong all this time.

Vincent M. Wales: Maybe. May be.

Gabe Howard: Well as you said, Christmas changed a ton. When I was younger I used to wake up and see what Santa Claus got me. When I got older I would wake up and see what my parents got me but put Santa’s name on. And when I got even older and like my brother and my sister they started having children. Then I got to see it through a child’s eyes as an adult. And that was that was so wonderful to watch. Now of course all those kids grew up now, and so it’s so now when I go to my parents house there are no children, but my nieces and nephews… they’re starting to have kids of their own, so it’s coming back around.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: And you know I have a cool wife.

Vincent M. Wales: You do.

Gabe Howard: I do. And you know I’ve told her that there’s just certain things that I like about Christmas and we still do them with a whole different set of people. I like decorating sugar cookies with kids. Well, my family, we don’t have kids anymore. They all became teenagers and they grew up. My wife’s family has kids and they like to decorate and they like to eat the icing. And I like to give them M&Ms when their mom isn’t looking. And so the traditions live on. And this is now part of their Christmas every other year.

Vincent M. Wales: Right. Every other year.

Gabe Howard: Every other year. And we don’t… look, in a perfect world… in a perfect world, everybody would live in the same town. I go spend half of Christmas with with my wife’s family and half of Christmas with mine or you know when the podcasting millions come rolling in, I’ll just get a giant house and I’ll have everything together. Everything changes, and yet everything stays the same. Because on Christmas Day, I really am still with people that I love.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: And it does seem kind of mean to say that I’m not with the right people.

Vincent M. Wales: Right.

Gabe Howard: And that’s on me.

Vincent M. Wales: Yup.  You need to to reframe that.

Gabe Howard: Yes I do. But you’re with no people. So the reason that we did this podcast today is because… [shouting] you have won an all expenses paid vacation to come to my house for Christmas! Yaayyy!

Vincent M. Wales: Sorry but I’ve already put the deposit on the place up north and I can’t get a refund on that.

Gabe Howard: Oh no you need to reframe, that you’re not losing that money.

Vincent M. Wales: Yes I am.

Gabe Howard: Oh.

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah. That would be a loss.

Gabe Howard: Well it’s California, so it might be burnt down before you get there. Vin,  Merry Christmas.

Vincent M. Wales: Thank you. Same to you.

Gabe Howard: Really?

Vincent M. Wales: And a Happy New Year.

Gabe Howard: And a Happy New Year?

Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: I don’t get a Merry Christmas, I just get a same to you?

Vincent M. Wales: Yep.

Gabe Howard: I’m going to reframe and pretend that you said Merry Christmas. I might even edit in a Merry Christmas.

Vincent M. Wales: Congratulations for being able to do that. You’re learning well.

Gabe Howard: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everybody. Thank you for spending almost all of 2018 with the Psych Central show and – What’s that? You haven’t listened to every episode? Well, if you are like Vin and alone on Christmas, you’ll have a lot of free time. And if you’re like me and with your in-laws and you need to break, the Psych Central show is there for you. Thank you everyone for tuning in and remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private, online counseling anytime, anywhere by visiting We will see everyone next week.

Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at If you have feedback about the show, please email

About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website,



Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at and




Podcast: How to Survive a “Not Bad” Christmas

The Psych Central Podcast

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APA Reference
Central Podcast, T. (2019). Podcast: How to Survive a “Not Bad” Christmas. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Jan 2019 (Originally: 20 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 Jan 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.