Like our lives in general, Christmas has dramatically changed over the years. The great majority of us have lives that centuries ago would have been on a par with royalty! On a material level we have an abundance of food, warmth, clothes, electronics, and so on. Does this make us happier? Unfortunately, our expectations of what we should have has also risen and this can undermine our enjoyment of life. Some psychologists have described this as the ‘abundance paradox’. For example, at Christmas, when expectations are set so high, then the disappointment of getting an unwanted present can exceed the satisfaction of getting something that is wanted.
A recent BBC radio programme interviewed older adults who had lived through the war-time and recalled being excited about Christmas stockings containing such gifts as a lump of coal, an orange, a bag of sweets and a ‘threepenny bit’. As one woman remarked, “We didn’t get as much, and we didn’t expect as much”. But it was clear that these people had just as much enjoyment of Christmas. Listening to them talking is a great reminder of the fact that our happiness comes from within ourselves, and is not dependent on our external circumstances. The ‘value’ of Christmas does not depend on material gifts.
The challenge of Christmas is therefore to see if we can preserve that sense of gratitude and appreciation of what we have. We can ask ourselves, “What part of Christmas would I least like to lose, or let go of?” or “Which person or thing would bring the most value to my experience this Christmas?” These kind of questions help us to check in with ourselves about what is important about this time of year and can enhance our sense of appreciation and gratitude.
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