In this blog our Managing Partner, Sonja Graham, writes about the stress of the festive season and how she thinks we can all have a happier Christmas.

With the deluge of seasonal adverts, our voyeurism into others’ insta-perfect lives through social media, Hollywood films, our children and even we ourselves heaping on the pressure to create “the perfect Christmas” it is understandable why so many find the festive period stressful – but does it have to be?

“Why do women have small feet?”

Some stressors are largely inevitable; the intense time with your uncle who still cracks sexist jokes and thinks they’re funny, the annual couple’s squabble over whose family you spend the “big day” with - resulting in most of the holiday spent in traffic jams trying to do both; and of course the usual bickering over whether to serve turkey when no one really likes it do they? But these are all stressors that come with measures of happiness (not to mention privilege) - whether time with people we love or at the very least, hilarious anecdotes to share with friends after it’s all over. There are many other stressors that are less comical though, two biggies include the worry of buying the right presents - and its natural bed-fellow, having the money to do it.

“Don’t worry mum – I’ll just ask Santa for it”.

My childhood Christmases bring back hugely positive memories for me, but I also remember the juxtaposed concern as to why my normally stoic mother was often in tears in the days pre-ceding the big event. Tears of failure on discovery that a child had “just asked Santa” for the obscure present she had admitted she couldn’t find; tears from the overwhelming extravagance of presents and luxuries that 90% of the world’s population could never have; tears of exhaustion from wrapping presents that are opened in seconds and moved aside for the next. T’is the season to be jolly… but with 1 in 3 women feeling overwhelmed at Christmas, it seems that my mum is not alone.

“Awesome - a plastic reindeer that defecates chocolate”.

The real irony for me is that – my fondest memories of Christmas have little to do with the presents, in fact I struggle to bring to mind more than 2 or 3 presents over my first 30years. Also unlike the memories, I certainly haven’t hung onto the gifts. If the post-Christmas surges in charity shop donations and waste collections are anything to go by then it’s not just me. Apparently as little as 1% of the stuff that makes up the things we get is in use even 6months on. You might expect this for the terrible tat from your work secret santa – that hilarious reindeer that excreted chocolate pellets went in the first bin you saw - but 99% of stuff going to waste? The more you look into this the scarier it becomes. Clothes for example, are on average used only 7 times before they are chucked. This seems like madness in a world where 1 billion children still live in abject poverty and when we already consume 60% more resources each year than our world can sustainably provide. But is it really madness to want to make our loved ones happy by buying them stuff?

“And the princess filled her tower with loads and loads of shiny stuff and lived happily ever after”.

It is if we actually want to make them happy – a wealth of research, and most fairy-tales, will tell you that accumulating possessions isn’t the route to long term happiness. It’s the relationships we build, the experiences we have, the skills we learn and the things we do for others (among other things) that truly make us happy. And yet at Christmas we ignore all of this and slavishly buy presents. What if this year we shunned the adverts and instead listened to the academics or even the princesses and their frogs. What if we focused our time and energy on creating awesome memories instead of presents? If my happiest childhood memories are anything to go by they aren’t hard to create; carols by candle-light, a trip to the local panto, kicking leaves on wintry walks, the “no-escape” family time including games, walks and even peeling sprouts (and then watching my sister hide them rather than eat them). In fact the recipe hasn’t changed much for me over the years!

The recipe for a very merry Christmas.

It can feel tricky to buck the convention of buying lots of stuff – what will you put under the tree, the kids will feel robbed etc - but there is a whole host of amazing advice out there to help you: from inspiring stories of families who create annual treasure hunts that lead to a single much prized gift, to fun tools that give you fun ideas of experiences you can give like Elfless Acts, to websites, to simply scouring local events guides and location maps for weird and wonderful things to do. So let’s create more fun and less stuff this Christmas and spend our time with our loved ones instead of in checkout queues!

PS – read our guide to 101 things that are better than shopping if you need any more convincing!