On the surface the festive season constantly evokes sentiments which should soothe, relax and bring comfort and joy to all.
Above and below the surface of Ho ho ho
Big name television adverts in soft focus and designed to bring a tear to the eye, a lump in the throat and a hole in your wallet are as eagerly anticipated as the biggest blockbuster movies of the year. Underneath that surface dressing of tinsel and glitter, however, the reality for many families and individuals is often soaring stress levels as they respond to a whole host of extra pressures, not just the obvious ones around time and money but particularly around relationships.
Wishing for a TRUE Christmas
Fortunately, those of us who are Partners of a Positive Psychology Practitioner (PoPPs) are usually able to rise above the festive emotional turmoil. Thanks to the stream of positive thoughts and suggestions on tap, any potential ‘bah, humbug’ comments from us about the commercialisation of Christmas are swept away before they are uttered. True, on rare occasions, we might not be quick enough to hide the look of dread that flashes across our eyes when told that our kleptomaniac cousins will now be staying over for the whole festive weekend. (Apparently, the range of their electronic tags is to be temporarily extended by the local police in a fit of festive generosity which just happens to coincide with the nights of the Constabulary’s Christmas parties.)
Should such negativity arise, however, then us PoPPs will be briefly reminded of the rich vein of research and studies highlighting the benefits of maintaining family relations? We will be pointed in the direction of Diener and Seligman whose studies of students showed that the most consistent characteristics of those who were happiest and exhibited the fewest signs of depression were “their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.” “Very Happy People, 2002”
Using Strengths in an appreciative way during the season
Yes, but how many students have had to cope with the pressure of remembering not to sit Aunty Doris next to Cousin Dave because of that incident with the banana and the baubles during Christmas tea 2006? That’s a response guaranteed to see us PoPPs reminded that we need to create time for a personal mindfulness exercise to remember the strengths and virtues of our lesser-seen relatives so we can approach the Christmas celebrations in a more positive and relaxed manner. After all Cousin Dave’s creative streak could be a real bonus for some party games – and Aunty Doris’s strong vocal chords (previously picked up by residents three streets away in 2006) make her a perfect bingo caller.
So now that we have managed to reframe any nervousness and negativity over the family Christmas get together into an opportunity to build bridges and share experiences, there are just the family finances to consider. Again, there’s no need to be downhearted as you review the sea of red ink which used to be your bank balance, just be enthused by the findings from “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness” Dunn, Aknin and Norton, 2008. With family and finance issues all sorted and still with a smile on our face, there’s only one remaining issue which could see PoPPs back-tracking slightly – the need to source this year’s must-have Christmas toy (insert Hatchimal / Tracy Island, etc. as appropriate).
Wishing for less to be more
A fruitless trail around every toy store within a 50-mile radius, trying to avoid traffic-choked streets, overflowing car parks and shopping aisles full of frantic parents locked in hand-to-hand combat over the last remaining toy is daunting enough. But the real challenge lies ahead – perfecting the explanation which will allow your disappointed child to regard the lack of the key item in their Christmas stocking as a positive and life-affirming event.
Unfortunately, there is little documented evidence that the phrase “remember it’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts” produces a positive outcome. Equally, highlighting that the lack of a star present provides more time to enjoy other gifts is also noticeably short on validated proof of a happy response. It is at this point the prudent PoPP should acknowledge that cowardice is one of their character strengths, selflessly step aside and allow their better half to take over the explanation and use their knowledge and experience to ensure Christmas morning is a positive experience for everyone.
About the Author: Tim Bevington is husband to……Maggie Bevington has worked in conventional and alternative medicine before adding Positive Psychology (MAPP 2014) to her work at Positive Health Plus. She now designs and delivers Upward Spirals workshops and courses – an integrated approach to health – which combines Positive Psychology, mindfulness training, and healthy lifestyle choices. www.upwardspirals.org.uk
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’