I have to say up front that I’m not a huge fan of Christmas. Not in the Scrooge or Grinch kind of way, it’s just that having never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I often feel lost and lonely. All that peace and joy, tinsel and store musac, seems to emphasise what I often feel is missing in my life. Which is ridiculous, when I have kind and loving parents who are still alive and healthy, wonderful siblings, nieces and nephews, and numerous friends who I know love me. So I know I need to work a little harder at not only surviving Christmas, but enjoying it. If you’re one of the many who find Christmas lonely, painful, exhausting, stressful, too commercial or overwhelming, here’s my top 10 positive psychology ingredients for creating something delicious for the next few weeks.
1. Find your meaning
The importance and meaning of Christmas is instilled (and often forced upon us) through our exposure to media, and religious, family and cultural traditions. If we don’t resonate with that meaning, Christmas can be a period of confusion or cynicism. So find your own meaning for this time – I’m not religious, so for me it’s a time for connection, reflection and gratitude.
2. Create your own imagery
Since snow-flakes, angels and an overweight man in an impractically un-Australian outfit don’t do it for me, I look for the imagery that brings my Christmas meaning to life through music, pictures and tokens Take a listen to one of my favourite ‘carols’ Tim Minchin’s White Wine in the Sun (which incidentally, is about connection not drinking!)
3. Connect with people that matter
If Uncle Bob is always obnoxious, and sister Susan cant stop criticising the state of your house, do you really need to do the big family lunch just because it’s expected? Consider doing something different – catch up with the difficult rellies for brunch, then hang out with the people you love for a picnic in the park. Mix it up, so you still maintain connection with those you need to, but you also have some time with people that nurture, love and support you.
4. Manage your expectations
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself or others. Its only a day…the food and the decorations and the presents don’t have to be perfect. If your Christmas meaning is about connecting with others, then this should be your focus – enjoy your time with them, and let the not so important stuff wash over you.
5. Manage your time
Not everything has to be done by Christmas! You don’t have to fit every last job that’s been on your list for a year into the last week, and you don’t have to catch up with every person you know in the universe in December – give yourself a break – schedule stuff for January and beyond, when the world has slowed down again.
6. Take a break
If this is the time you take holidays from work, then make sure you actually take a break – let customers and staff know you’re on leave, organise some back-up if you can, re-direct your emails and put a message on your voicemail. You’ll come back feeling far more refreshed, and be more productive (and probably a nicer person!) having had the down time.
7. Control what you can, let go of what you can’t
You don’t have to go along with everything that everyone else wants to do – you can try to influence decisions about family gatherings and presents and holidays through discussion, and put forward suggestions that are going to work best for you. But then recognise the things that are outside of your control to change, and make a decision to go with the flow, rather than wasting angst and energy on resisting and complaining.
8. Do something for others
Gift giving was once a unique expression of love and care of others, but can now seem an onerous chore or a race for popularity based on giving the most impressive gift. What else can you do to show concern and kindness for others – volunteering some time, donating to a charity in lieu of presents, giving people the gift of your time, or surprising someone with a random act of kindness?
9. Create positive emotion
What for you, brings a sense of joy, exhilaration, serenity, pride or fun? You may not be able to lessen some of the more painful feelings that come up, but can you schedule some activities that trigger your positive emotions? A walk in the hills, a game of beach cricket, your favourite DVD or a browse through the photo album to savour some happy memories. I love singing, so even though the words in our traditional carols don’t resonate, I still go for it when I can to experience the pure joy of bringing the music to life. And I never tire of watching my nieces’ nativity plays and end of year concerts for that feeling of pride and joy.
10. What are you grateful for?
I do have a personality with a built-in yearning for life and all that it has to offer – this is great for inspiring dreams, fuelling my goals and driving self-improvement. But it can be double edged sword, because at vulnerable times I can focus on what I haven’t had in my life, and the loss can get the better of me. So I know I need to make a greater effort at this time to feel gratitude for the people in my life, my experiences, talents, achievements and character traits, and for the life I’m fortunate to lead. I have so much to be grateful for.
So that’s the recipe that works for me – leave out some ingredients, or add some of your favourites to create your own amazing Christmas delight. Please enjoy, stay happy and safe, and I look forward to connecting with you in 2018.