It is Christmas season. Yay!
Actually, for most people, the reaction would be a sinking feeling at the pit of their stomach, caused by the idea of the excessive (some say insane) shopping set in motion by the coming holiday. Previously a European-style Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, Christmas has been transformed by massive retail chains into a worldwide shopping frenzy observed by followers of pretty much every possible faith.
On the face of it, all this buying and sharing of gifts is intended to increase the happiness of both givers and receivers and create a festive and generous atmosphere. But in reality, people spend hours agonizing over gift ideas, finding out where they can buy them without mortgaging their clothes, actually buying them, wrapping them, hiding them, keeping the secret of what they are and wondering how they will be received by loved ones and those we just had to buy gifts for.
On the receiving end, people (especially kids) spend months waiting to get the special things they put on their wish list for Christmas, only to be disappointed with what they actually get, because nobody ever gets everything on their list, even if they get some of it.
Can you see the level of happiness going up here? I sure don’t.
The original figure behind Santa Claus was a kind bishop, who used his influence and means to help the poor. This really made everybody happy and was a good thing to do, especially when other bishops behaved quite differently.
Nowadays, the massive shopping season leaves everybody poorer than they were before, while putting lots of money in the bank accounts of the high priests of Money and Greed. By using our social fears, we are being pressured into forgetting all about happiness and just buying and buying and buying.
People do a lot to be happy, but they do second-order things and believe they will make them happy, rather than working on happiness directly. Ask anyone who wants anything “What will you get out of it?” enough times and they will get to happiness.
For example, say your child wants a Wii. What they will get out of it is could be the feeling they are valued by their parents enough to spend money on them. It could be social inclusion, moving from the “have not’s” to the “have’s”. It could be hours and hours of fun time when you are away at work. Directly or indirectly, they want the Wii to make them happier.
So let’s bring it back to happiness, shall we?
What does happiness cost?
Very often, it costs nothing.
To make your child feel valued, a well-directed compliment can do a great job. The habit of complimenting your children when they have done something kind, smart, brave or helpful can go a long way to make them feel valued at no cost.
Using material possessions to gain social status works on those who appreciate material possessions and lasts just as long as you can keep up. It is a dangerous and costly race, which often misses the point. Self-confidence and empathy, on the other hand, last a lifetime and earn the respect and friendship of people (kids) who value themselves and who support more confidence and more empathy.
Spending time with your children, really paying attention to them when they need you, hugging them and telling them how great they are will help them succeed, build their confidence and direct them towards other kids who share the values of mutual support and encouragement. No money down. Zero monthly payments. All free.
What about the hours of fun? Well, depending on your circumstances, may I suggest going out to nature or to a nearby park. For best results, add some friends into the mix and stir.
Our 9-year-old Noff often goes across the street to a friend who is 3 years older than she is. She disappears in the morning and returns in the evening, having missed lunch with us, with her face beaming. While she was gone, she has baked muffins, played board games, helped move things around the yard and spent hours imagining different world with her friend and acting them out with dolls and stuffed animals.
Not only does this cost us nothing, we even save on lunch! OK, so Noff is not much of eater and her friend comes over too sometimes, but you get the picture, right?
When it comes to gifts, think of the ones that have made you smile and feel loved. Think of the presents that have meant a lot to you. Was that ever related to their price tag? Was it ever because they were the latest gadget?
Whatever the present, I always pay the most attention to the card. My best gift memories are when I realized my grandmother had listened to me and waited patiently for my birthday to give me exactly what I wanted, or a framed picture of my daughter for my office, “So you don’t miss me so much when you’re at work, Daddy”.
It may be too late for a lot of people, so perhaps you can remember it for next year. Go over the list of people you will be with this holiday season and ask yourself, “What can I do to make them happy?” Getting them a special tie or a salad bowl may be an option, if they like special ties or salad bowls, but focus on the happiness and see how your choices change.
This question may also bring up things like smiling at them, hugging them, saying how happy you are to be with them and how important they are for you. These go well with any gift and when written on a Christmas card. Not surprisingly, they also change the focus of your loved ones towards making you happy.
Have a truly happy Christmas this year,