First, this blog is not meant to be a “bah humbug” on Christmas. It can be a wonderful time of family, friends, celebrating, volunteering, and yes, even giving. Gift giving can be a very thoughtful way to let someone know that they are remembered and loved.
However, this blog is an invitation for us to reflect on our priorities this Christmas, and how they might be impacting our wellbeing.
While personally you may prioritize time with your child over ensuring that they spend all Christmas morning opening gifts, it can be hard to resist the call of advertising. According to a DollarsDirect.ca survey, 64 percent of people with children feel pressure to overspend, compared with 38 percent of Canadians who don’t have children. Slogans and commercials emphasize not just that you should buy more, but that you should not forget about yourself as well. Even some sell their product on the very idea of what you will receive personally when you buy.
This turns the idea of gift giving on its head, with the implication being that you should not forget to take care of yourself. But does this pressure to spend, this expectation for you to buy for you, really lead to self-care?
Dr. Tim Kasser, who is a professor of psychology and has studied materialism for more than a decade writes that,“The more materialistic values are at the centre of our lives, the more our quality of life is diminished”. He notes that those who prioritize material goods, and the status associated with them, have lower levels of overall well being, and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Why does this correlation occur? The research is not definitive, but one possible explanation is that the priority of giving more and more material goods trumps the priorities that research tell us actually improve our well being: authentic connected relationships, experiences with others, and activities that accomplish more intrinsic goals. Simply because a gift is expensive and looks good, does not necessarily mean that it will meet the meaning level required to benefit others and ourselves.
So what do you do this Christmas to help it become meaningful, and for your true priorities to come through?
- — Know what your priorities are: sit down with yourself, your partner, or your family, and decide together what you value about Christmas, and what meaning you want to create.
- — Plan creative ways to meet those values this Christmas—perhaps it means only giving homemade gifts, or giving to a preferred and trusted charity. Perhaps it means asking your kids to decide to whom they want to give to this Christmas, instead of just expecting to receive.
- — Plan traditions and rituals that reinforce what you value—do you value family time? Maybe you work towards that value by creating a whole day to get a Christmas tree, ending with hot chocolate.
- — Set a budget, set a budget, set a budget! Write down all of the things you are grateful for before you go out shopping for gifts—gratitude helps ease overspending.
From the associates at Capital Choice Counselling, we hope that this Christmas is a time of meaning, joy, and well-being.
Written by: Erika DeSchiffart, M.A., associate with Capital Choice Counselling Group.