How to have a (truly) happy Christmas!
"Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas." (Calvin Coolidge)
This is the time of year when our TVs and magazines are full of sentimental adverts encouraging us to buy wonderful gifts for one another, delicious food and exotic drinks - with the implication that if we do, we are sure to have a happy Christmas. Of course that is part of most people's traditional celebrations; and it wouldn't feel like a holiday if we didn't do something special to mark the occasion. But the reality is that we don't really need to spend much money at all in order to be truly happy this year. So here are a few other things to put at the top of your "To-Do" list in order to make this Christmas your happiest yet.
Forgiveness is very under-rated! It would be a remarkable life if we could go through it without being hurt by the words or actions of another person or organisation. When that happens, we have two choices: we can either carry a grudge and nurse the pain and anger in our hearts, or we can exercise forgiveness and let it go. Forgiveness does not mean that the other person should not have to face the consequences, especially if they have broken the law. It also doesn't mean opening yourself up to be hurt in the same way over and over again. But it does mean no longer constantly dwelling on the time you were wronged and wishing ill on that person or even planning revenge. As the saying goes: forgiveness is unlocking the door of a prison only to find out that you were the prisoner.
In the same way that we have been hurt by others, it would be equally remarkable if at some point we were not the source of someone else's hurt or even anger. If that has recently been the case for you, giving a sincere apology and asking to be forgiven could be just what you need to help create a perfect Christmas.
Connection and generosity
It almost goes without saying that Christmas is a time for families to get together; and in the lead up to the day itself, it is also a time when we often go to parties and social occasions with friends and work colleagues. Christmas is a time when true happiness comes from saying "yes" to invitations, opening our hearts to connect or re-connect with others, and to share their lives in some small way. In terms of bringing us happiness, it's even better when we do the inviting or sharing, especially when we seek to include or support people who might otherwise be sad and lonely at this time of year.
For those we love and care about the most we also like to give presents. But don't forget that the best gift you can give is always the gift of your time - not just being in the same room as the other person but listening, talking, interacting and having fun together. As a coach, many of my clients tell me a little about their childhoods. Rich or poor, what people always remember most is not what gifts their parents gave them at Christmas or other celebrations, but (for good or bad) how much of their time they shared with them.
Of course we should say thank you for any presents we are lucky enough to receive. But the spirit of gratitude is so much more important than just good manners. We all have so much to be thankful for: not just material things but for the people in our lives and the care and affection they have graced us with throughout the year. A good exercise is not just to think about what present to buy for the people we love, but also to consider what it is about them that we are most grateful for - and then to tell them this in writing or in person. The link between gratitude and happiness is extremely strong. Quite simply, the more we recognise our good fortune and are grateful for it, the happier we will be this Christmas.
Spirituality and meaning
There is lots of research evidence to show that religious people (of all faiths) with a strong belief in God (or Gods) are on average measurably happier than people who don't have any belief. So the advice not to forget the "true meaning" of Christmas certainly has some validity from a positive psychology perspective. But it is equally true that there are many non-religious people who are just as happy, or even happier than some religious people. The real key is not church-going or any particular religious practice (although these can be important for many), but having a sense of purpose and mission. Generally speaking, happiness does not come from trying to answer the question "What is the meaning of life?". Rather, true happiness is much more closely associated with people who can answer the questions: "What is the meaning of my life?", "What am I here for?". For some people, religion can help provide a structure for thinking this through. However, the important thing is not just to see Christmas (or any other time of celebration) as simply an excuse for feasting and indulgence. It's also a great opportunity to spend some time reflecting on your life's mission and destiny - and then to restructure your life in accord with that mission.
How coaching can help...
Coaching is a process that helps you to really get to know and challenge yourself, to understand your life mission, and to set an exciting new action plan for the future. The increased confidence and sense of fulfilment that this will bring makes a professional coaching programme a wonderful Christmas present for yourself or someone you love.
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About Paul Hemphill
Paul Hemphill is a leadership and well-being coach who specialises in bringing a positive psychology approach to his coaching. Over the last five years he has helped literally hundreds of clients to restart their lives, develop new levels of confidence, change careers, improve their work/life balance, or become better leaders and managers.