Stress-Free Giving (Delaware Coast Press)

‘Tis the week of Black Friday! Credit cards are polished and ready as rosy cheeked shoppers gleefully anticipate the thrill of Christmas shopping, 2012.

Really? Even I can’t believe I just wrote that. What I usually hear sounds more like, ‘The holidays are so stressful! Shopping is such a chore!’ So much for gleeful anticipation.

But does it really have to be that way? Have we forgotten about that wonderful thing called ‘ choice? Believe it or not, you have the power to choose how much anxiety to endure this holiday season. Specifically, you can choose to limit, or not to engage in, the exchange of gifts. You’re free to tell significant others, friends and family that this is the year to control the stressful search for (what we hope will be) the ‘perfect gift.’ Giving and receiving can be fun, but if it causes more stress than happiness, you can choose an alternative.

Nothing is more festive than lots of brightly wrapped presents under the tree. But in the interest of a stress-free holiday, you can propose other options. For example, suggest that each person draw a name, and that name will be the person for whom they buy. Some large families and offices do this all the time. Each participant can focus on something special the person he or she selected. Or what about a memorable experience like a cruise or a trip — anything that isn’t doomed to collect dust in the attic.

I’m not advocating any particular way to exchange gifts. What I am saying is that we have a choice. Psychologically speaking, the biggest problem is that too many people approach the holidays as a duty or as drudgery. They feel they must buy gifts for everyone. It’s all or nothing. In these cases, quality often gives way to quantity. Are you motivated to buy expensive gifts for your kids because you know they’ll appreciate every one of them all year long? Or (be honest, now’), are you trying to impress everybody else?

‘Materialism,’ business and advertising get the blame for much of this, but advertising can’t do anything other than perhaps momentarily intensify the desire to buy. But we still retain the power to choose our actions. Well-run businesses respond to what the majority demands, and rightly so. The problem is that many people don’t question what they want. They just do it — with lots of resentment and bottled-up anger.

If you find yourself thinking, ‘I just can’t do it this year,’ ask yourself, ‘How do I really want to handle gifts?  Am I truly satisfied when it’s all over?’ Think about last year: If you liked everything the way it was, then know that all the hassle will be worth it. Don’t rush to label something a hassle that is in fact something you treasure.

Several years ago, during a particularly busy pre-holiday time, I agonized over the decision to suggest to family and friends that we suspend gift-giving in favor of experiences together, like a fun dinner at a restaurant or a day trip to a nearby city. After I worked up the nerve to hear what I was sure would be, ‘No gifts!? Horror of horrors, it’s Scrooge!’, I was astounded by everyone’s reaction. They loved it! The stress of battling traffic for a gift that would end up languishing in a dark corner (or furtively returned) was wearing on everybody. I just happened to be the one to bring it up. We still buy gifts for one another during the year — retailers at the beach always seem to have unique and unusual items — making the season more fun and less frenetic.

Why approach the holidays as a duty? If the season feels that way to you, then something is wrong with your thinking and/or your actions. You might be surprised at how many of your friends and family feel the same way.

And so it begins. Plan for the holidays, exercise your power to choose what makes you happy, and then sit back and really enjoy the season.