How to have a happy, stress-free Christmas

Christmas is a beautiful time of family and giving but it can also be a great source of stress. Here's how to beat the winter blues

By Andy Cope

My Christmassy top tips will train your brain to stop kicking happiness into the long grass. Practice them regularly and you won’t have to wait 365 days for happiness to return. We all know that puppies are forever—not just for Christmas—and it's the same with happiness.

 

It’s the holiday season which is supposed to mean good-will to everyone, the time to be jolly and enjoy the wonderful Christmassy shenanigans.

But what about the other side of Christmas? The side that George Burns alluded to when he said, “Happiness is having a large, loving close-knit family… in another city.” The family feuds, visiting in-laws, hyper children and trying to master that excited look on your face when you receive yet another pair of socks are all reasons we might need a little breather. 

So, what’s the secret to a magical, stress-free Christmas? Here are a few top tips taken from the science of positive psychology:

 

1. Believe in magic

As we get older we become, what scientists call, habituated. In short, this means your fourth Christmas is more exciting than your 74th. 

So, top tip number one, treat Christmas with the wide-eyed wonder of your inner child. If that fails, whizz to the other end of the spectrum and pretend it’s your last. This will make you gulp. Blink away a couple of tears and I guarantee you’ll throw yourself into it.

2.  Avoid creating stress 

Yes, things will go wrong. But when they do, instead of having a whinge, tell yourself it’s a “plot-twist”. In fact, shout it out loud. Celebrate things that go wrong. Make them part of the fun! 

The turkey and tatties aren’t quite ready at the same time? It’s not a disaster it’s a plot twist. When there are no batteries for the kids’ new drone, it’s not an epic failure, it’s just another plot twist. Christmas is a story and all the best stories have plot twists.

 

3. Remember that gratitude is life fertilizer for happiness

Last thing at night, just before you go to sleep, and first thing in the morning, as soon as you wake up, spend a couple of minutes listing things you are grateful for. 

They don’t have to be big and most likely they'll be moments rather than "things". Do this for as long as it takes you to make it a habit. 

 

4. Savour the moment

Spend a little more time every day in the moment, in the now, noticing the world around you and focusing on its beauty. 

 

5. Hug! 

Christmas is a time for family and friends and, chances are, you will be giving and receiving more hugs than usual.

Here’s some science that may just change your way of thinking. Apparently, the average hug lasts 2.1 seconds. So, a quick one…two… and it’s done and dusted. However, for the love to transfer through, a hug has to last seven seconds or longer—hugging releases oxytocin (a happy chemical) in you and the one you’re embracing.

So, a top all-year round tip is to treat the ones you love to the full seven seconds. Obviously, don’t count out loud as that spoils the effect, and they might start wriggling after four or five seconds—but a seven second hug says, “I love you”. Everyone wins. 

 

6. Do it like the Danish

And finally, let me reveal why Denmark is always top of the international happiness league tables. They have a word— hygee (pronounced “hoo-ga”)—that has no direct translation in English. The closest I can give you is “comfort”. 

For me, hygee is sitting by an open fire, drinking hot chocolate, while a storm rages outside. And hygee is also being wrapped up snuggly and warm on a snowy walk. Hygee is also sharing a tub of Quality Street while I watch trashy Christmas telly. 

Work out what your hygee moments are, and then get good at spotting them—all year round. This is linked with mindfulness and improves your happiness by enabling you to appreciate more wonderful moments.

Andy Cope is the author of Happiness—your route-map to inner joy. Available now on Amazon. Find out more about Andy at www.artofbrilliance.co.uk