Digging out of a Fun Size candy bar-induced stupor and gearing up for the holidays has begun in earnest. With Halloween in the rearview, it’s now time to turn our focus to Thanksgiving, naturally, and the winter holidays creeping ever deeper into November. Some of us relish this time of year, with the delicious food, get-togethers with friends, decorations, travel, and traditions. For others, even the sight of that list causes a breakout of hives and a mild panic attack. It’s a strange mix, this unnecessarily complicated blend of joy and stress.Why do we feel this way about something that is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year?” How did it get this way? Maybe you remember the Peanuts gang decrying the commercialization of Christmas during the annual viewing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” While the message is one familiar to all of us today, keep in mind that Charlie Brown has been lamenting the change in the holiday since the 1960’s. Evidence even exists of people complaining of Christmas “not being what it used to be” as early as Victorian times, if not before.
Yep. You read that right, as early as the 19th century people have been disillusioned by yuletide. Charles Dickens may be credited as being responsible for codifying many of our current holiday traditions in his seminal “A Christmas Carol,” within a couple of decades of its publication the holiday had transformed from its medieval and pagan roots (think feasts, decorative trees, and of course, gift-giving) to a well-oiled consumer affair. Ladies magazines in the 1880’s offered tips as to how to decorate the home festively, Christmas cards became affordable and en vogue, and even the first “Santa’s Grotto” was born barely after the end of the American Reconstruction. Suddenly, Dickens’ vision of a time for family, generosity, and goodwill had become just another product of industrialization. Even the anxiety-inducing “Only X Number of Days ‘Til Christmas!” hankers back to the days of the horse and buggy.
But the commercialization is not the only problem, it’s also the change in us. Once the magic of a visit from Santa is gone, do we become harder, more cynical, more pessimistic? That is a hard assertion to make when you think about how you feel when giving. The act of giving releases dopamine, that fabulous brain chemical that makes all of the fun things in life, well, fun. When you dance, eat chocolate, laugh with friends, surf the internet, make love, or give a gift, dopamine surges to your medial forebrain pleasure circuit and makes you want to feel that buzz again. It’s why these pleasurable things can become addictive. If gift-giving releases dopamine, does that mean that giving can be addictive?
The short answer is yes, giving can be addictive. Giving of one’s self to help another, or to give someone else pleasure feels good, as well as does good. You can absolutely become greedy for giving. What a marvelous avarice! Just think about the happiness you get to give AND receive, and suddenly the pressure of the holidays drops, if just a little bit. But there is a downside to all this frenzied giving, and that is the over-abundance of stuff. Of course, not all things are unnecessary and wasteful, or harmful to people and the planet. But even the best things made from the purest sources and with the least negative impact often fall short if exchanged as a gift, because they lack a lasting connection.
Many of us are familiar with the parent who just can’t help themselves in showering their children and grandchildren with well-intentioned yet unnecessary gifts, or with those in our orbit who only know how to express their love, devotion and well-wishing with something picked up at a store. While kind, those expressions of love can cause many unintended headaches, such as not ever finding a purpose o use, or becoming clutter. And when we want to declutter, there is sometimes the guilt associated with giving away a gift, that someone intended to make you happy. Lastly, this practice can even become a vicious cycle of giving/receiving stuff, needing that rush again, acquiring more stuff, feeling high then overwhelmed by the stuff, feeling guilty and needing a pick-me-up (retail therapy, perchance?) It’s a modern affliction that, like many of societal diseases, is just trying to fill a hole in our selves.
What is the cure for this curious malady? Channeling that generous spirit into something more meaningful: Gift Experiences. That’s why My World Registry came to life in the first place. We’ve known that our consumerist society has had a problem with waste, excess, stress, and especially a fast-growing sense of disconnection, but for a long time a simple solution has been out of reach. Not anymore. My World Registry allows for those who love to give, to help give the things that matter most: long-lasting happy memories, shared moments, and experiences of a lifetime. The kinds of things that can’t be lost, broken, damaged, or become out of fashion, nor will they overfill your closets or cramp your style.
It’s food for thought as you sit down to give thanks this year with your friends and family. You can also make the Thanksgiving table conversation a real discussion about what it means to give and what giving looks like to you, instead of news headlines or whatever subject that could take an ugly turn. And who knows? Maybe those you have gathered together with decide that this year to say ‘no’ to the holiday hustle-bustle and instead start building those everlasting memories, born out of the spirit of giving from the heart to the heart and making gifts be something you can keep forever, an amazing experience of your choice. That certainly would make Charles Dickens proud.