Once the leftovers have been sorted, the good china has been put away, and the last of the Thanksgiving guests have left the house, Americans' thoughts quickly turn to Christmas. More specifically, they start thinking about all the delicious loot they're going to give and get.
Discussions of who's giving what to whom and which stores are having sales and who wants which thingamabob, gizmo, gadget, and doodad dominate many a family conversation during the month of December. We accept gift giving as part and parcel of the holiday season, but few of us ever really stop to think about what should be an obvious question: do we really need more stuff? If you have to think about it, the answer is probably no.
This is not a call for a return to the real meaning of Christmas, or an exhortation to forgo gift giving entirely. The holiday season--whichever holiday you choose to celebrate--is what you make of it, and the act of giving a gift can be extremely pleasurable and rewarding. But before you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on presents that will provide only fleeting satisfaction, consider these five reasons to put the brakes on out-of-control gift giving.
Reason #1: More Stuff Doesn't Make Us Feel Good
A series of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that possessions, although they provide a momentary boost in happiness, tend to ultimately leave people feeling unfulfilled. After you get a new video game system, you're invariably disappointed when a new model comes out six months later.
Or you're upset when you find out that your friend bought her father the same watch you bought yours, only she paid considerably less than you did. With concrete possessions, it's all too easy to compare them--their prices, their features, their newness--re-evaluate them, and regret them, which leaves us feeling disappointed in the end.
Reason #2: It's Exactly What Retailers Don't Want
During this time of year, you're likely to see commercials that suggest that if you don't buy X toy or Y gadget for your kids, they'll surely be scarred for life. You're also likely to see seductive in-store displays of merchandise, and advertisements with enticing sale prices on gift items. Don't forget that retailers spend millions of dollars on the study of consumer psychology, and everything--everything--you see and hear during the holidays is designed to get you to buy, buy, buy.
Retailers' message is that giving gifts = getting love, and this is often communicated in surprisingly unsubtle ways. Do you really want to play into their greedy hands? Besides, unless you're shopping only at independent stores that sell locally made goods, any money you spend will go toward padding some faraway corporation's bottom line, rather than enriching your local community.