How to have the perfect Christmas, otherwise you're a bad person

Varwwwclientsclient1web2tmpphpa Rj Yk4With one day to go until Christmas, which is everyone's favourite day of the year, some readers may be growing anxious. Sure, if you're reading this, you've escaped the destruction of the planet in a cataclysm of fire and molten rock, as allegedly predicted by the Mayans, which was scheduled for Friday. So that's something. But there's still so much to worry about: the overcooked turkey, the children disappointed by their gifts, the family rituals that descend into bickering, the carol service disrupted by a dirty bomb, and so on. It's only right, then, that this week's column should distil the wisdom of countless self-help gurus and magazine tip lists into one handy guide to the Perfect Christmas:

1 Be joyful. Besides dipping into the Chicken Soup Christmas Treasury: Holiday Stories To Warm The Heart, the best way to do this is ceaselessly to monitor your mind for negative emotions. If you find one, crush it, then immediately resume self-monitoring. Ignore psychological research suggesting that "feelings are uncontrollable directly by the will", as David Reynolds puts it in his book Constructive Living. Happiness is a choice! Refuse it and you've only yourself to blame, in which case you should feel deeply ashamed.

2 Relax. Christmas is a time to recharge; so, in a similar vein, ask yourself and your loved ones regularly whether you're relaxed. If anyone isn't, then tell them – sharply, if necessary – to chill out. (Take care to avoid "relaxation-induced anxiety", a phenomenon in which relaxation triggers panic attacks.) Don't get so relaxed, though, that you stop striving to create the perfect Christmas dinner. If you're following a recipe from a cookbook or magazine, remember that food photos are usually manipulated to look a bit worse, so as to appear non-intimidating. Yours should look better than that.

3 Fight boredom by seeking distractions. When holiday boredom strikes, as it will, disregard new research suggesting that it often results from having too many things to focus on, and that it works like quicksand – that "if we thrash around, we make it much, much worse", in the words of the psychologist John Eastwood. Instead, hunt for another TV channel, a better board game, a more interesting way to torment a much-despised sibling. This has never cured boredom before, but there's a first time for everything.

4 Practise radical honesty. The founder of the Radical Honesty movement, Brad Blanton, would have you tell your relatives exactly what you think of their gifts, cooking and characters, because lying is "the primary cause of most anxiety [and] depression". He also farted and picked his nose throughout an interview for Esquire a few years back, so maybe that's a good idea too.

5 Finally, don't forget to have fun. One simple technique is to print signs emphasising the importance of fun – "Remember to have fun!" say – using the Comic Sans font, then displaying them around the house. This ingenious trick is sure to keep you smiling until new year, whereupon it'll be time to transform your life completely and eliminate all your bad habits for ever.

[First published in Guardian Weekend magazine. Photo by Kevin Dooley on Flickr]

My book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, is published in paperback by Canongate Books on January 3 (but you can already order it on Amazon now…)

Oliver Burkeman I'm a writer for The Guardian based in Brooklyn, New York. My new book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking explores the upsides of negativity, uncertainty, failure and imperfection. Each week in This Column Will Change Your Life I write about social psychology, self-help culture, productivity and the science of happiness, and make unprovoked attacks on The Secret.

I also blog about things for Guardian US and write a monthly column for Psychologies magazine. Hello.

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