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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 December, 2003, 00:44 GMT
Christmas joy 'all in the mind'
presents under the tree
Some presents may not be quite what you wanted
Granny has knitted you another yellow jumper, Aunt Sue still thinks you're a fan of Enid Blyton - Christmas gifts can be a real disappointment.

But a researcher says we should all remember it really is the thought that counts - and if we remember that, we'll enjoy the day much more.

Dr Stephen Joseph, of Warwick University, found those with religious beliefs are happier at Christmas than those who have a more materialistic outlook.

What seems to be important is living your life in a way that emphasises the importance of being involved in your community and caring for people
Dr Stephen Joseph

But even those who are not religious can enjoy the festivities if they take time to appreciate their friends and families, and the feelings that lie behind their gifts - even those which might not be exactly what they hoped for.

Dr Joseph's findings came from a survey of 101 people into attitudes towards Christianity, happiness and purpose in life.

He found that those who described themselves as religious appeared to be happier.

"Religion gives people a sense of purpose in their live, and it's that which makes people happy."

Importance of caring

But he said a sense of purpose could come from a number of paths, and religion was only one.

Dr Joseph added: "Those who put less emphasis on striving for financial or material success in their lives and instead focus on fostering their sense of community, for example by donating money to charity, helping others, or those who strive to have good personal relationships, tend to be happier whether or not they are religious."

Christian imagery
Religious belief gives a 'sense of purpose'

But he added: "Those who have a more materialistic outlook on life are less happy, if that outlook is at the expense of things such as relationships with friends and family.

"This takes us back to some of the old clichés - but it seems there is some truth in them.

"For example, when you're given a gift you don't particularly like, remember - it's the thought that counts."

"What seems to be important is living your life in a way that emphasises the importance of being involved in your community and caring for people, and Christmas is a reminder to us all of this message."

He added: "These findings may be tied to Christmas, but they apply all year round."

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