We all know that we are expected to go to events with family and friends loaded down with gifts. But, what if you want to get off that roller-coaster? It can seem like doling out presents is a no-negotiation proposition, even if you really can't afford it.
You probably feel the psychological tension between the social need to give elaborate gifts and your own desire to cut down on gift-giving. It's important that you find a way to identify, rationalize and minimize that tension, so you can do what's best for you, instead of overspending for the sake of precedent. Luckily, there is a lot of good research out there that explores what really makes people happy-and the answer isn't more Christmas presents.
Here are a few considerations to help those of you looking to cut back on gift-giving this year:
It Really is the Thought That Counts.
A big part of the joy of receiving a gift is the belief that the person who got that gift really thought about you and wanted to do something for you. One study shows that simply recognizing others' good intentions makes people feel better. That kind of personal thought does not need to be expensive or commercial. Making a small donation to a charity that a friend supports can let them know you are thinking about them. Helping your family to decorate for the holidays is another great way to show you care. Bonus for you: Spending time being helpful and generous is associated with greater happiness and longer life.
Experiences Matter More Than Stuff.
Research demonstrates that the experiences we have in life make use happier than the stuff we have. Experiences create happy memories that we can carry with us for a lifetime. And experiences don't have to cost a lot of money. Call up a family member and have a long conversation. Get together with a friend for a cup of coffee or a long walk in a beautiful place. You can let everyone know that your holiday gift this year is the gift of your time.
Think Of The Children!
Obviously, kids love to get gifts, and if you are swooping in from out of town for a holiday get-together, you might want to lift your gift ban for the holidays to pick up a few things for the kids. That said, you don't need to go overboard. And kids really do respond to getting some individual attention. If you are at a family party, tear yourself away from the adults and the eggnog and get down on the floor with the kids. If you have the time, have some nieces and nephews over to make S'mores or do a messy art project. At young ages, kids are learning a lot from the adults around them. These interactions play into that desire to learn.
Relax and Savor the Moments.
The holidays are a stressful time. Don't compound that stress by worrying about your decision not to give lots of gifts this year. Try to spend as much time with your friends and family as you can. An important reason why we devote the end of the year to seeing family and friends is that time passes more quickly than we like to admit. Use this time to reconnect with the people you love. Research on regret shows that as you get older, you are more likely to regret the positive things you missed out on rather than the mistakes you made. Getting together with family and friends over the holidays is a great way to avoid the regret that you didn't really spend enough quality time with your loved ones.
- by Art Markman, Ph.D.