As the holiday season approaches, it is hard to resist the many social cues in our environment telling us to buy! buy! buy! I can recount countless seasons when my mother was besides herself scrambling to get the perfect gifts for each of us in the family. The stress to fulfill the ever growing list for gifts oftentimes overcame the joy that is supposed to be at the root of the holidays. Thankfully, as my siblings and I became older, we decided to put a stop to the incessant gift-giving and instead made a pact to travel every year as a family and spend our time together, which actually is the most important gift of all.

And of course, stores do their part to enhance the likelihood of needless spending during this season. Notice how holiday decorations and music start to play earlier and earlier every year? In fact, as a clever article in the Sunday New York Times shares, “holiday shopping is designed to make you uncomfortable” (Burkeman, 2012). For example, the ever increasing decibel level of music in stores and the repetitive Christmas songs they play all serve to over-stimulate our senses, temporarily undermining our self control and heightening our likelihood for impulse shopping. In other words: the more disoriented you feel in the store, the more you feel compelled to buy! buy! buy!

And at what cost? How many times have you returned from holiday shopping to find that rather than getting things from your list you also added a couple “gifts” for yourself? Be aware that stores have clever strategies in their arsenal that are meant to manipulate your senses and incite you to toss out that list and go rogue the longer you shop. Moreover, materialism breeds unhappiness. The research generally finds individuals who rate high on materialism are also less happy. The most effective way to enhance one’s happiness with money is when money is being used for experiences (e.g. a concert or vacation) rather than in purchasing material goods. So instead of accumulating more stuff for your loved ones this holiday season, consider getting creative and investing in sharing a special moment. And on the plus side, such a pursuit enables you to avoid the madness of the mall during this time of year.

Of course, in the midst of the frenzy surrounding the holidays, oftentimes our material wants may usurp the true meaning of the holidays—to take a break from work and give us the chance to spend time with loved ones. Consider this your moment to restore the true meaning of the holidays and live with the intention of spreading joy, not mere stuff, this season.

Burkeman, O. (2012, December 9). Suffer. Spend. Repeat. The New York Times, Sunday Review.

Copyright 2012 Azadeh Aalai

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