How To Have A Very Happy Family Christmas

George Burns apparently said: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family…in another city.”

It’s the holiday season which is supposed to mean goodwill to everyone, a time to be jolly and enjoy all the other wonderful Christmassy shenanigans that go on.

But what about the other side of Christmas? The family feuds, the visiting in-laws, hyper kids and trying to master that excited look on your face when you receive yet another pair of socks? My Dad bought my mum a chip pan one Christmas and I don’t think they spoke until Easter. So, what’s the secret to a magical Christmas?

Firstly, you need to believe in magic. As we get older we become what scientists call habituated. In plain simple English this means the excitement you felt as a six-year-old has worn off! So, my top tip number one is 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.

Top tip number two, come up with a festive plan and ask friends and family to help. I’m pretty useless at most things but I can cook a turkey and roasties, so I’m on dinner. My daughter is on decorations, my sister does pudding and my brother-in-law is organising the entertainment (fingers crossed he will realise that a stripper probably isn’t appropriate; mind you it might keep my dad’s eyes off the telly for 10 minutes).

Once you’ve delegated a job to someone forget it and let them get on with it. If my daughter forgets the decorations we don’t have any; if my sister forgets the pudding we go without. It’s not the end of the world and more to the point, they will have learned something and it’s not your fault.

The secret to a happy Christmas is do what you need to do and forget the stuff you can do nothing about. Worrying will get you nowhere and you are unwittingly empowering your friends and family by entrusting valuable tasks to them and teaching them a valuable life lesson in responsibility. How lucky are they? Only give people jobs who are capable though. If you have a family member whom is a bit useless, don’t task them with something they can’t or won’t do.

Next, enjoy people for who they are and deal with your triggers. Nothing can upset you unless you give it permission to and people will behave around you in conjunction with how you behave. For example, I was always a model child around my Granddad yet with my Dad I was always a bit cheeky. The simple reason was that my Dad used to let me get away with it from a young age, whereas his dad could burn a hole in my soul with just a look.

Look for the best in your friends and family. Focus on the things you love about them. Take a genuine interest in them and listen to what they’ve been up to throughout the year and sound interested, ask questions. It’s spooky how your interest in them will result in them thinking you’re fab! If all they do is moan, enjoy their misery. My Dad loves moaning and I’ve learned to enjoy it. Recently he had a prostate cancer scare and so had every test known to man. I rang him up for his results and he told me everything was fine. “What a relief!” I exclaimed. “I suppose so” he replied, “but I’ve got to go back in three years and who knows what will be wrong with me by then?”

Some people make you want to laugh or cry. Learn to laugh. Christmas can either be a magical time or a nightmare, but you have a choice of which.

How to get happy…

  1. Get excited about the big day. Pretend you’re six, or pretend you’re 106.
  2. Come up with a festive plan and get help. Delegate.
  3. Focus on what you love about people.
  4. Ask lots of questions and be genuinely interested in other people.
  5. If all else fails, have the eggnog at the ready.

Dr Andy Cope is a positive psychologist and bestselling author. His latest book Diary of a Brilliant Kid is available now at Amazon. Find out more about Andy at

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