And so the risk is that a period with the potential to be absorbingly delightful…becomes something to “get through” instead – an obstacle one must get past before “real life” can resume, simply because it can’t be made to conform to how you think your days ought to go.
The more general… point here is that there’s often a deep tension between the desire many of us feel to exert control over our time – because we believe, if perhaps only subconsciously, that something will go very wrong if we don’t do so – and the possibility of actually being fully absorbed in that time. So it’s not really that the Christmas holiday gets in the way of real life. That would be absurd: Christmas is part of my real life, and a part I cherish. It’s my desire to control things that causes the real trouble.
Wanting to absolutely control our time conflicts with wanting to be part of community, and sharing experiences with others.
Burkeman discusses the conflict between community, efficiency and convenience in Four Thousand Weeks as well. Individualism puts our focus on ourselves and our personal productivity, but can lose us the experience of being part of a whole. When our own goals take precedence, it’s easy to distance ourselves through resentment of loss of control or treat activities as items on a checklist that must be done before we can get back to the real stuff.
(I say this also as someone who believes in setting boundaries with family and not doing things merely to placate others’ demands. So when you do agree to do something, it’s important to commit to the experience with intentionality.)