Christmas: KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid
The oldest chat-up line in the book seems very appropriate at this time of year. "Do you come here often?" Well, yes, every December as a matter of fact.
Every year, without fail, Christmas creeps up on us and we engage in that popular pastime so beloved by those in western civilisation - running round in small circles.
If there were an Open University course in the subject, we’d all be graduates with honours, so wouldn’t it be good to throw off the anxieties that herald the arrival of Christmas and actually enjoy ourselves for a change?
Lifestyle gurus make a decent living out of helping the likes of us straighten ourselves out. They tell us to focus sharply on strategies that will make life run more smoothly.
But instead of shelling out hard-earned cash by enlisting their services, just follow this plan and see if you can make 2008 the year of the enjoyable Christmas.
* Adopt the KISS principle. Most importantly, Keep It Simple, Stupid ... and feel the burdens lifted from your shoulders. As far as food’s concerned don’t get weighed down by the thought of providing endless three-course meals. For presents you can draw up your battle plan before you hit the shops, then put it into action nice and early so it’s possible to actually enjoy the experience rather than frantically hunting high and low at the last moment.
And cut the clutter from your life. Don’t be afraid to turn off the mobile, be bold enough to ignore your email intray for a few hours, and just rejoice in the fact that sometimes it does us good not to be on call for others 24/7. Make the most of it by turning off the TV, the radio and actually listening to your own thoughts for a change.
* Delegate: You know what needs doing, and you know that if you try to do everything it will take its toll on you. So put balls in other people’s courts.
Look at the people at your disposal, assess their abilities and give them realistic jobs to do. Teenagers might grunt at the prospect of doing something that will benefit their siblings, but put a granny or grandad-related task in front of them and they’ll jump at the opportunity to shine. Maybe tea-making duties for the duration of their visit would suit.
OK, so veg prep is dull, but get a team on to it and ask each of them to dig out their favourite CD to turn you on to their music while you work.
* Get out more: Take a breather by setting aside time for a walk round the block. Even 15-20 minutes will make a difference. You don’t want to go so far that you get tired out, and for so long that you feel you’re falling behind, but a quick breather will give you a real feeling of well-being.
* Get in a different zone: Do something simple - take on a task that you know you’ll be able to do, and do it well, but within a given time zone. Puzzles or reading are great for this. If, for example, you know you can complete a certain crossword in a certain publication, make yourself sit down and focus on it, so you can take your mind off everything else. Give yourself the luxury of 15 minutes with your current book, or if there’s a writer in a paper or magazine whose work you enjoy, don’t be tempted to skip their article in favour of the continuous drudge of jobs. Sit down with a cuppa and read it.
The simpler the task and the greater your chances of completing it the better. A ‘do not disturb’ sign is essential.
* Don’t aim too high: Having an achievable target in mind and hitting it is more important than aiming high, raising everybody’s expectations and then falling dismally short.
If you set out to give your family and friends the perfect Christmas you’re doomed to failure, because it doesn’t exist. It’s guaranteed that at some point there will be something go wrong with the food, someone’s going to fall out with someone else, a clanger will be dropped or that someone will forget to record granny’s favourite TV programme. Live with it, and make sure everyone else knows they’re going to have to live with it too.
* Keep journeys to a minimum: Travelling is tiring. Full-stop. There is not much more to be said about that. So face facts, put limits on the number of people you go and visit and events you book up. Slogging up a motorway to visit an aunt whom you only ever see at this time of year might be detrimental in the context of a week of hacking about all over the place while everyone else is doing the same.
Call the aunt and explain that you’d very much like to make a special point of visiting her, but that you feel it will be more enjoyable to do it at another time of year. Maybe it could coincide with an anniversary or a notable date that you both recall.
The person you’re visiting might be glad to have visits spread through the year, instead of them all happening at Christmas and New Year.
* Stick to values: It’s now widely recognised that children function best in certain situations when there is structure. Funnily enough, grown-ups are the same, so don’t be afraid to have a plan.
This is what’s going to happen, this is when it’s going to happen, and this is how it’s going to happen. Yes, people do like freedom and flexibility, but at this time of year they really respond to structure and, dare we say it, tradition. If people liked what happened last time then don’t fret about being inventive and thinking up different things for this time around.
* Don’t get hung up on being happy: If other people’s grass seems greener, or their snow seems whiter, stop comparing yourself with them. Find your own definition of what happy means to you ... and be happy with it.
If we’re always striving for something better then it stands to reason we are never going to get there.
Happiness is one of those things in life that seems to creep up on us when we’re least expecting it. It’s like when you lose your front door key, hunt high and low and abandon the search, only for it to turn up in some unbelievably obscure location. How did it get there, you wonder, but your joy at finding it knows no bounds.
Let happiness have its little game and let it hide from you if it wants to, but then rejoice when it turns up in the most unlikely setting.