Mindful Shopping and Holiday Giving

by Nirmala Raniga
During the holiday season, it is easy for us to go overboard when shopping for those we love or want to impress. Along with our desire to please others are the seemingly endless sales— Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and a myriad of other last-minute opportunities that can be difficult to pass up. It is easy to become entangled in the excitement of holiday shopping, but we should be asking ourselves if we really need to purchase this year’s “must haves” and how they will improve our lives— if at all.
Science tells us that people tend to return to stable levels of happiness in spite of any positive or negative life changes. This phenomenon is known as hedonic adaptation, and it also pertains to the level of happiness we experience when acquiring new things. So, for instance, if we purchase a top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art TV, that item will be exciting and new for a short time. Then, once we become accustomed to watching the TV every day, the happiness we derive from it will diminish until we are relatively at the same level of happiness we were before we purchased it. This explains in part, why a child will become excited by a new, coveted toy, but then after a while, that new toy will no longer hold the same fascination.
Instead of spending our money on objects, we will find ourselves much more satisfied— as both givers and receivers—if we focus on having new experiences. Researchers believe that experiences bring us greater and longer-lasting satisfaction than material goods. Experiences draw people together. For example, having dinner with good friends, going off to an amusement park, taking a long hike in nature— all of these experiences provide opportunities to connect in ways that are lighthearted and fun. We can talk, laugh, and share the events of our lives. We also tend to anticipate experiences with enthusiasm. The idea that “getting there is half the fun,” builds excitement, the journey, the planning—all that is involved when we take a trip or plan to spend time with others. Once we have the experience, we tend to remember it more fondly than we would a gift, especially a present that may not have been exactly what we had in mind. We’ve likely all received something that did not fit quite right, for instance. That gift then becomes something we never wear again. However, even a less-than perfect meal with good friends will likely be remembered with joy.
Whatever we choose to give one another, here are some tips to help us shop and give mindfully this holiday season:
Give from the heart. Connect with yourself and what you know about the individual you are gifting. If you do choose to give a gift of clothing, a book, or some other item, try not to give to impress. Instead, give because you feel the person will truly enjoy it.
Think of experiences you can share with someone or that he or she can share with someone else. Perhaps a friend and her partner have small children and aren’t able to find time to go out alone. You might offer to babysit for an evening, or give them a gift card to a restaurant you know they would really enjoy.
Consider others this holiday season. We live in a world of abundance, and yet there are people who have so little. Think about adopting a family and bringing gifts that you think everyone would enjoy. There may be children who have never received a special toy. Or, the family might like a delicious, hot, holiday meal delivered to their home.
Visit with individuals who may be lonely. There are countless elderly people living in care facilities who almost never receive visitors. The holiday season offers a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with those who would so appreciate your company.
Share a special talent. You have talents as a painter, poet, or musician. This year, create something truly special for those you love.
There are many ways we can mindfully give to those we care about this holiday season. By simply connecting with the joy in our hearts, we will be sure to make a healthy choice.