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As a therapist I have known supported many people that over extend themselves in order to buy gifts for their family and find that the next Christmas they are still paying for the gifts from last Christmas. There is nothing like watching people stress out over this circular path from Christmas to Christmas to bring home the fact that there must be a better solution.
When I talk to clients, they generally share a desire for a simpler more joyful holiday season. They often speak of the stress of holiday shopping, seasonal crowds, and unwanted expenses. However, they often express concern about the expectations of others as well. I hear about how the children expect the newest technology or clothing items. I am told that people wish to give the perfect gift so that the person they have given it to will remember that Christmas and the giver long after that holiday is gone.
However, research tells us that people who spend their money on shared experiences are happier than those who buy tangible things. Three years ago, I experienced this for myself. Rather than giving me a thing, my significant other gifted me with a weekend in Black Mountain, NC. We spent the weekend in the hotel depicted above. We ate breakfast each morning surrounded by lovely paintings. We spent one evening at the Biltmore House. There we ate at one of the eateries on the estate and took an evening tour. The house was beautifully romantic; lit with candles and decorated for the holiday. There was a group of children singing carols in the winter garden. The whole experience was tender and engaging. It was a gift I will never forget.
Like most people I have struggled to find the perfect gift for the people in my life. I partake in a few Christmas traditions. I buy all of the children and their significant others pajamas, which we open together on Christmas Eve. This is generally one of the two physical gifts I buy each year for my children. I only do this because it is a multi-generational family tradition. It was one of the things I loved about my childhood. Each year, we would open our pajamas on Christmas Eve after dinner with my parents and grandparents. We would then snuggle warm in our beds listening for Santa.
The other physical gift I tend to buy for my family every year is a book each. This is simply a way of sharing my love of reading. Often my sons don't read the books I buy, and sometimes the girls have to swap books if I get their favorite authors confused. However, I hold to this tradition simply as a way of sharing my love of the written word.
Other than these two consistent gifts, my holiday expenditures have expanded and contracted as my financial resources change. In light of research, I attempt to be mindful of what is likely to provide the most happiness. As I have found that physical gifts really don't provide as much happiness as experiences, I have moved away from buying armloads of gifts and now focus on having experiences with my family.
Although one can spend a great deal of money providing experiences for the family just as one might spend a great deal of money providing physical gifts, I have found that often the most meaningful times are simple and inexpensive. Spending time around the bonfire roasting marsh mellows often provides more joy than spending mounds of money to attend a Christmas show. These simple moments together provide us the time to reconnect, catch up on the things that occur while we are all busy in our individual lives, and build memories.
My children do remember an occasional gift from their pasts. Granted these are often remembered for their failure to meet expectations. However, I have learned that we have as much fun together, reduce our holiday stress, and don't have to spend months recovering financially from our expenditures when we focus on having family experiences.
I encourage you to consider what brings you and your family the most joy this season. Make mindful choices, and see how it impacts your holiday. May you all find happiness and joy in this Christmas season.