I LOVE Christmas!!!! But Christmas shopping? Not so much...
I find that I derive so much more pleasure from giving presents than receiving them. And according to the research, I'm not alone! And it seems that a big reason for this is that we just don't receive what we truly want or need!
Unless you know someone really well, chances are you are probably not going to buy them a gift they really want. And that's such a waste - spending your money and your time rushing around buying gifts that people probably don't really want, and won't use, and will likely throw away (or re-gift!).
My husband and I live happily in a divine little apartment overlooking the ocean. We get to wake up to the sun rising over the Pacific every morning (you can check out our pics here!). We don't have a huge amount of space, and this, coupled with my deep and abiding hatred of clutter has meant that we have over the years learned to be pretty ruthless about our possessions. We have to really, REALLY want something before we will buy it and bring it into our home.
I love it when people think of me, but I hate it when they give me "stuff" - things I don't use, don't need and don't want. There is already too much stuff out there in the world! And too much credit card debt. And at this time of year, when all we really want is to wind down, too many of us are running around in too many shopping malls stressing out about buying too many things that people (let’s face it) really don't need and probably don't want.
This is bad for our finances and bad for our planet. Check out this awesome video by The Story of Stuff Project:
So I have been taking a different approach to Christmas...
It feel so liberating - like a ten tonne weight has been lifted from my shoulders - that I just had to share it with you too!
Ask yourself: Do you REALLY need to give this person a gift?
I think we need to recognise that not everyone needs to get a gift at Christmas. But even if you feel strongly that you should get someone a gift, consider that they may not want any more "stuff".
Then ask: what could I give that will show my appreciation, but won't add to the mountain of unwanted "stuff" in the world?
I've put a lot of thought into this in the lead-up to the Festive Season, and here are my ideas:
Give experiences in preference to material gifts
Research as shown that when it comes to buying for ourselves, we derive more happiness from experiences than material purchases. And it seems that this may also hold true for gifts too. Give a gift certificate for a massage. Send a card saying "I miss you! Let's catch up! Lunch/dinner is on me! How about 15 January!". Give a double pass to those fancy schmancy Gold Class Movies were you get to sit in a plush recliner. Give a gift voucher for a cooking class (hint hint! I give awesome cooking classes, so hit me up if you want to arrange this!). The possibilities are endless...
Give gift cards
If you REALLY want to buy something, give a gift card, so the recipient can choose what they really want and need. Studies have shown that when people receive gift cards they will often use them to buy treats and luxuries for themselves, and the bonus is that they will be choosing what they really want!
Give something to eat (and you get mucho bonus points for giving healthy foods!)
We all gotta eat, so unless you give someone a food they absolutely hate, you are probably onto a winner. One of the nicest presents I have ever received was a small box filled with cherries.
Give something to grow
This gift idea stems from my own personal bias. I just adore my little organic veggie garden and I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to grow something, even if it is just a small pot of herbs on the kitchen windowsil. In fact, most of my friends and loved ones are getting seeds this Christmas.
Express your Gratitude
Have you ever had someone thank you or express their heartfelt gratitude for having you in their life? Do you remember how awesome that felt? Amazing, right? So wouldn't that make a wonderful gift for someone? And an added benefit is that these kinds of exercises have been shown to boost our own mental and emotional wellbeing!!
Ask what they want
OK this won't work with everyone, and it does take away from the spontaneity and surprise that so many of us strive for when giving gifts. But why not ask what people want? Especially people who won't be embarrassed by the question like partners or family members.
Give your time. The best present is presence!
The best gift we can give our loved ones is the gift of our presence. Spend less time spending. Spend more time listening and sharing. Check out this adorable video on this very subject!
Bottom line: Find ways this Christmas to show people you appreciate them - without spending time and money giving them something they most likely won't want.
And finally, this is just a personal choice of mine, but...
I personally don't give alcohol, unless I know the person very, very well. I never give alcohol to neighbours, acquaintances or colleagues. The fact is that many people have issues with alcohol, and given the stigma surrounding addiction it is very unlikely you will know about it unless you are a very close to them. The festive season can be a particularly challenging time for anyone seeking to maintain their sobriety. During my legal career I acted for many people battling drug and alcohol addiction and saw their struggles up close. I would never want to do anything that could jeopardise someones' sobriety.
As foreshadowed, I'm still learning about this, and my views may change as my journey continues. I would love to hear your views on Christmas gifts - drop me a line!
I have to admit I went down the research rabbit hole on this topic! If you would like to dig a little deeper into the psychology of gifts, check out these papers:
Baskin, Ernest, Cheryl J. Wakslak, Yaacov Trope, and Nathan Novemsky (2014), “Why Feasibility Matters More to Gift Receivers than to Givers: A Construal-Level Approach to Gift Giving,” Journal of Consumer Research, 41 (1), 169–82.
Belk, Russel W. (1996), “The Perfect Gift,” in Gift Giving: A Research Anthology, ed. Cele Otnes and Richard F. Beltramini, Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 59–84.
Dunn, Elizabeth. W., Lara B. Aknin, and Michael I. Norton (2008), “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness,” Science, 319 (March), 1687–88.
Flynn, Francis J., and Gabrielle S. Adams (2009). ”Money Can’t Buy Love: Asymmetric Beliefs about Gift Price and Feelings of Appreciation,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (2), 404–09.
Gino, Francesca, and Francis J. Flynn (2011), “Give Them What They Want: The Benefits of Explicitness in Gift Exchange,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 (5), 915– 22.
Nicolao, Leonardo, Julie R. Irwin, and Joseph K. Goodman (2009), “Happiness for Sale: Do Experiential Purchases Make Consumers Happier than Material Purchases?” Journal of Consumer Research, 36 (August), 188–98.
Steffel, Mary and Robyn A. LeBoeuf (2014), “Overindividuation in Gift Giving: Shopping for Multiple Recipients Leads Givers to Choose Unique but Less Preferred Gifts,” Journal of Consumer Research, 40 (6), 1167–80.
Teigen, Karl Halvor, Marina VG Olsen, and Odd Egil Solås (2005), “Giver–Receiver Asymmetries in Gift Preferences,” British Journal of Social Psychology, 44(1), 125–44.