You’re aware that money doesn’t buy happiness. Yet the average American will spend $704 on holiday gifts this year. Purchases during this past Thanksgiving weekend – Black Friday to Cyber Monday – reached $57.4 billion.
Unfortunately, the whole premise of holiday shopping is based on a flawed philosophy. This is strikingly apparent in the documentary God Grew Tired Of Us – which follows three Sudanese men as they make the move to the U.S. – as one of the men wonders why, at Christmas time, so much time is spent buying Christmas trees and decorations, and visiting Santa Claus to ask for presents.
The Sudanese man – heavily concerned – tells the camera, “Where are these things mentioned in the Bible? Nobody can answer this question for me. Back in the [refugee] camp, at Christmas we used to dance to celebrate. We would also reflect on the birth of Christ and think about how to improve ourselves.”
Christmas certainly doesn’t come from a store, and it doesn’t sell at an amazing discount on Black Friday. We can make Christmas much better than that.
1. Value what we have
Realize that participating in conspicuous consumption doesn’t make us any happier (and wastes our everyday dollars). Finding happiness is something that is done within, not something that can be purchased from a store shelf or catalog. Once we recognize that, we can choose to make the liberating decision to be content with the possessions we already have.
Three percent of the world’s children live in the U.S., yet the U.S. consumes 40% of the world’s toys. It would be wise for us to recognize that we, our families, and our children have more than enough.
2. Practice gratitude
Gratitude – completely free – has been linked to “better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long term satisfaction with life, and kinder behavior towards others.”
Spend time to reflect on how our everyday lives are much more comfortable than for those who have come before us, who through triumphs, tragedies, and sacrifices made the world a better place for the next generation.
When we feel we don’t have all we want, simply jotting down a few things we are grateful can begin to make us feel more happiness and optimism. There are many things we can be grateful for: our families and friends, the advantages we enjoy over our ancestors, watching the snow fall, a meal prepared for us.
3. Give to those in need
There are people throughout our world that don’t have the minimum resources necessary to survive: food, clean water, clothing, and shelter.
842 million people don’t have enough to eat, 780 million don’t have access to clean water, and 100 million are completely homeless. Instead of buying unnecessary and useless pieces of clutter, our money could make a real difference by improving the everyday lives of others.
While we may give gifts this season, if we make a choice to donate more to those in need than the amount we spend on gifts, we can make the world a better place.
4. Choose consumables and experiences
Many of us won’t completely avoid holiday shopping over the next few weeks; even Mr. Everyday Dollar will ring up $200 in gifts. By choosing a gift that is either consumable or experiential, instead of material, we can offer practicality and longer-term satisfaction for the recipient.
A bottle of wine or a local artisan cheese are perfect consumable gifts. A voucher for a massage, a gift card to a special occasion restaurant, or concert/theater/game tickets will provide the recipient memories yet not add clutter to their life.
The holiday season is a time for spirituality – whatever that might mean to us – and for spending time with family and friends. Many of us have lost perspective of that as we battle the crowds on Black Friday, in pursuit of a material Christmas that has been marketed to us.
Christmas doesn’t come from a store. And if we’re wise, we’ll recognize that when our garbage cans are overflowing with wrapping paper and packaging the day after.