Apparently somebody out there is reading this page, because over the last week or so I have received a number of emails asking me to reprint this article from a couple of years ago. The response then was amazing, and lots of people wrote that they took a more objective approach to holiday shopping. It’s nice to make even a small dent in the holiday craziness! So here goes:
‘Tis the season! Credit cards are polished and ready, as rosy cheeked shoppers gleefully embark on the adventure of Christmas shopping 2015. Really? Even I can’t believe I just wrote that. What I usually hear is, “The holidays are so stressful! Shopping is such a chore!” So much for gleeful embarkation.
But does it really have to be that way? Have we forgotten about that wonderful thing called … choice? Believe it or not, we have the power to choose how much holiday anxiety we endure. Specifically, we can choose to limit, or not to engage in, the exchange of gifts. We’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.” Or, we can dive headlong into the giving and receiving – unless is causes more stress than happiness, then we 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 single name for which they will buy. Some large families and offices do this all the time. 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. They feel they must buy gifts for everyone – all or nothing. Sadly, quality often gives way to quantity. Are you motivated to buy expensive gifts for your kids because you know they’ll appreciate 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 momentarily intensify a desire to buy. But we still retain the power to choose. Well-run businesses respond to what the majority demands, and many people simply don’t question what they want. They just do it — with 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 actually 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 dinner at a nice 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 here at the beach always 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. You might be surprised at how many of your friends and family feel the same way. When the holidays come around again (or are you still last-minute stressing this year?), create a plan and exercise your power to choose. And then guiltlessly enjoy whatever makes you happy.
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