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‘Tis the season to be jolly but for some people Christmas can be a stressful, or even depressing time of year.

While the festive season is meant to be a joyous time of parties, presents and spending time with loved ones, for those of us with financial difficulties, grief or family troubles, feelings of stress, loneliness and isolation can be exacerbated.

So if you are finding Christmas less merry than it should be, here are some tips to put the fun back into the silly season.

do it your own way  

Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’s – plan a Christmas that suits your circumstances, budget and mood. For example, if planning a big feast at home stresses you out or puts pressure on your budget, make it more casual this year by asking everyone to bring a plate. Or better yet, consider going outdoors for a picnic or beach barbeque.

Similarly, don’t put pressure on yourself to follow every tradition. If you don’t want to put-up a Christmas tree, don’t have time to decorate your house, or don’t fancy having certain friends around for Christmas drinks this year, don’t. And if you’re family doesn’t get along very well, it’s perfectly ok to go out to a restaurant to limit the time you have to spend together. It’s your celebration, so feel free to do it your way.

limit expectations

Just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly transformed into Martha Stewart. So if your home doesn’t look like it comes out of an interior design magazine, or you burn the turkey, try not to worry about it.

Similarly, don’t expect too much of everyone else. Remember others may be under stress too so try to be as understanding as possible.

If you’re family has been feuding for some time, don’t expect it stop just because it’s Christmas. Instead try to stay calm, limit your alcohol intake and choose both who you talk to and your topics of conversation wisely. Another good idea to ease tension is to plan an activity like a board game or outdoor cricket.

look after yourself

It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed, lonely or depressed at this time of year but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.

Some good coping mechanisms are to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, eat healthily, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly and take time out to do things you enjoy. Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to get you through.

If you’re feeling isolated or alone, consider getting more involved in your community. Volunteering can be a great way to help you feel more connected, while embracing the spirit of good will.

But if you’re finding it hard to cope with day-to-day things, seek professional help. You can find details of a counsellor in your local area in the beyondblue Directory of Medical and Allied Health Practitioners or your local doctor should also be able to suggest someone.

take care of loved ones

Be aware that Christmas can be a difficult time for some people and not everyone may be feeling quite as merry as you are. For example, they may feel overextended, miss love ones that have passed away, or be stressed out by rising debt. Those with family difficulties or who have just gone through a relationship break-may feel incredibly lonely and isolated.

Be sensitive to the people you care about and if someone isn’t coping, encourage them to seek help.

If you or someone you love needs some emotional support, Lifeline has counsellors available 24 hours a day, and the call does not show up on your phone bill. Call 13 11 14.

[tweetmeme only_single=false his 2005 address to Stanford graduates, Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple and Pixar, urges them to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life’s setbacks.

Drawing on some of the pivotal moments on his own life, this speech inspires us to do what we love, and to “stay hungry, stay foolish.”

[tweetmeme only_single=false]We all know happiness comes at a price right? Well, according to Arun Abey and Andrew Ford, not necessarily.

In their book, How Much Is Enough, Abey and Ford propose the idea of hedonic arbitrage – basically the notion of increasing your happiness without increasing your spending or wealth. This is an idea the authors have been exploring in conjunction with behavioural finance authority Shlomo Benartzi.

The basic underlining principle is that we are best off spending our limited resources on the things that are going to make the biggest contribution to our happiness. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?

The only problem is, when it comes to knowing what is going to make us truly happy – not just fleetingly, but over the long term – us humans tend to come up short.

This point is well illustrated by the fact that although our wealth has risen exponentially over the past 50 years, happiness levels have barely changed. Obviously, we aren’t using our increasing wealth to improve our happiness.

The good news is there are things we can do to get in touch with what makes us happier, and spend less money while we’re at it.

focus on gratifications, over pleasures

In the pursuit of happiness, leading positive psychologist Martin Seligman emphasises the difference between pleasures and gratifications. Pleasures come from external stimuli bringing immediate delight to the senses and tend to be momentary – for example, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to your favourite song or taking a warm bath on a cold day. Gratifications on the other hand involve us getting lost in activities that challenge and engage us. This could include rock-climbing, dancing, painting or playing chess.

As gratifications have a longer lasting impact on our happiness, hedonic arbitrage dictates channelling more money to these things and less to the momentary pleasures. The good news, gratifications also tend to be cheaper! For more information on gratifications, check-out our earlier post finding flow

take the eating out test

Happy, fulfilled people know what experiences they value and invest their time and money on those things. Here is a short activity to help you get in touch with what experiences you value and why.

First ask yourself which experience you would prefer and why:

  • Dining out at an expensive restaurant
  • A cheap and cheerful night out with a group of colleagues
  • Cooking at home with a handful of friends

Now try each of these experiences and take note of which you most enjoyed and why. Did your expectations match the outcome? Did your preferences have more to do with dollar outlay, ambience or the people involved?

the $50 test

Similar to the eating out test, this involves you getting in touch with the experiences and things you value most. Over the next few weeks plan three activities spending less than $50 each. This could include a anything from dinner with your partner, taking children to the movies, buying art supplies, doing a cooking class or planting a small vegetable garden. For each activity rate how happy you think it will make you, how happy it makes you immediately after and how happy it makes you a month later. What did you discover? Did your expectations match the outcome? Which activity gave you the most happiness over the long-term?

keep a happiness diary

This is similar to a keeping an expense diary but with an extra column for how happy each item makes you. Over the next week or two record everything you buy and do, how much it costs and how happy it makes you both immediately after and a month later. Now look at what you’re spending most of your money on. Does it match up with what makes you most happy? If not, why not?

Finding out what makes you happy takes time and effort, but in a world of prioritisation what could be more important?

For more information on hedonic arbitrage, or to order Abey and Ford’s book, check-out

[tweetmeme only_single=false Psychology Lecturer Tal Ben Shahar has spent his life studying things we can do to make ourselves happier. This video from Big Think reveals what he’s found.

Life’s little luxuries come at a price but you don’t always have to buy them outright.

Artbank's Sydney showroom. Image by Jenni Carter

[tweetmeme only_single=false shows when it comes to making us happy, experiences give us much better bang for our buck than things. While things make us happy in the short-term, our satisfaction soon wanes. On the other hand the pleasure we get from experiences starts high and often increases over time.*

So when we’re creating our budgets this is a good thing to take into account – especially if we need to cut back on spending.

But what about those things we just can’t live without? What about those little luxuries – sports cars, fancy handbags, art – that are so good just having them in our possession is an experience?

The truth is it’s often possible to experience our favourite things ‘part-time’ without actually having to buy them. It’s just a matter of examining what it is that actually gives us satisfaction, and figuring out another way to access it.

Here are a few examples to get you thinking:


Just because you enjoy driving fast, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy an expensive sports car. And let’s face it even if you do, you probably won’t get many chances to drive it out on the open road. So one thing you may like to consider is rally car driving. Check-out Adrenalin – they offer motor sports in all states ranging in price from $150 for V8 hot laps to $665 for a Lamborghini ride or $1265 for an intensive one-day Porsche driving program.


If you like being surrounded by great artwork, want to emanate a degree of sophistication in your office waiting room or just want a discussion starter for dinner parties, you can choose from an amazing range of Australian artwork for rent at artbank. Started by the Australian Government, the artbank collection includes works from renowned artists like Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinnini and Tracey Moffatt, and prices start from as little as $110 per artwork per year.


If high-end fashion is your weakness, it’s possible to look and feel the part without shelling out big bucks for items that will be out of season by the time you finish paying off the credit card. Online stores like love me and leave me, let you rent designer handbags, jewellery and other designer accessories on a weekly or monthly basis. So you can enjoy the luxury of your accessory for a special occasion, your first week at a new job, or just until you want to trade it in for a newer design.

*Gilovich and Carter, Cornell University, 2010

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