It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
We’re supposed to be laughing, caroling and snuggling by the fire.
Instead, we’re cutting each other off, stuffing ourselves, and knocking each other down to buy things we don’t need and can’t afford. Straight No Chaser’s Christmas Can-Can is stuck on repeat as we gear up for our end of the year spending finale. SERENITY. NOW.
We’ve already endured Halloween candy out by spring, struggled to find a bathing suit on June 1st (unless you rock a purple leopard-print look). We’ve made it through Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and a year of never-ending “One-Day” sales, the ones that run Wednesday through Friday, four times a month.
Now we’re told that it’s our LAST CHANCE to cram even more into our gorged stomachs, houses, and psyches. That we MUST HAVE inflatable Santas on our roofs and $25 Tervis mugs to keep our hot cocoa warm. We flip for 50 percent-off from stuff marked up 62 percent to begin with. Look at this dress! (to be worn only once because of social media) that was supposed to cost $375 but is only $150. OMG.
Gone are the days when we could show up with a six-pack and loaf of homemade banana bread. Handwritten cards have been replaced with airbrushed professional photographed family pictures with clever salutations. We don’t feel worthy unless we arrive with an organic bottle of wine in town wrapped in a perfect glittery gift bag that says something magical like “Live. Laugh. Love” on it, even though everyone knows there will be no time to do such novel things because it’s only stop two of seven of the holiday madness.
American consumers save 5 percent of earnings each year and support 70 percent of the gross domestic product. James Gustave Speth, author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, says that “the stamina of shoppers is crucial for global growth.” Our spending is costing us more than money. It’s gobbling up resources we could be using to devote to evidence-based ways of maintaining our health.
Here are three considerations to help you rethink your way to saner holidays:
1. Ignore the flashing reindeer in your neighbor’s yard. Watch out for social comparison. One of the reasons we fall for vices of consumerism is because of our hard wiring for social comparison. Speth says that in the face of our consumer society, our tendency to compare ourselves becomes “grotesquely exploited.” We hate being outdone. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research on happiness reveals that we are even willing to accept a worse outcome for ourselves, than to have someone beat us. Our Keeping up with the Kardashian mindsets can leave us as what Buddhist tradition calls “hungry ghosts,” those feasting on a consumeristic, materialistic diet that leaks out as fast as it goes in, like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.
2. Bring back the banana bread. In his book Consuming Life, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman names our departure from a time when we used to make things to one in which we consume them leads to trouble. What if we brought back simple giving, to allow for more time to be connected with each other? What if we started showing up with banana bread equivalencies so we can put our energy and resources in places that matter? What if we brought presence, not presents?
3. Don’t confuse wants with needs. Bauman also reminds us not to confuse duty to buy with privilege to do so. We fall into thinking we have to have things, or that we deserve them, and then go on to throw ninety percent of what we buy goes into the trash within six months. We think that what we acquire is a testament to our self-worth and identity. As Bauman put it:
"Consumer markets breed dissatisfaction with the products used by consumers to satisfy their needs-and they also cultivate constant disaffection with the acquired identity and the set of needs by which such an identity is defined. Changing identity, discarding the past and seeking new beginnings, struggling to be born again-they are promised by a culture as a duty disguised as a privilege.”
As you maneuver through all the noise this holiday season, think about what might shift if we devoted our resources to creating things, to simpler kinds of giving, to not resting our laurels on what we acquire to define our identities. What if we stopped treating our wants as needs and stopped thinking we are in a state of emergency when we don’t have the best of best for ourselves and our loved ones? What if we took all the wasted time and money and turned it into sharing abundance on a grander scale? What if we started to see beyond our own privilege, and find ways to give that make a lasting impact?
Watching out for social comparison, simple giving, and sharing privilege are just three ways to help preserve our individual and collective sanity. What are some of the ways you’ve rethought the holidays? Here’s to a wonderful time of year for everyone, with less stuff and more presence.
Suls, J., & Wills, T. A. (Eds.). (1991). Social comparison: Contemporary theory and research. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Speth (2013). America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Toosi, M. (2002). Consumer spending: an engine for U.S. job growth. Monthly Labor Review, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2002/11/art2full.pdf.
Bauman, Z. (2011). Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. See also Definition of Consumerist Culture. ThoughtCo website, https://www.thoughtco.com/consumerist-culture-3026120.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin.