What Do You Want this Holiday Season?
The smell of pine and cinnamon and the taste of peppermint evoke memories of waiting anxiously for Santa Claus. Those warm memories of childhood linger into adulthood, but the holiday season is no longer just a time of giving and getting presents, eating delicious meals, and enjoying pleasant sights and smells.
The American Psychological Association found in a 2006 survey that nearly half of all American women experience heightened stress during the holiday season. From November to January, the already overburdened modern women strive to uphold the holiday traditions by buying presents, sending cards, and cooking miraculous holiday meals, all while holding a job, taking care of a family, and maintaining a home.
Men share in the anxiety at least as much, since they are often put into the hot seat to finance the added expenses of the holiday season and to deal with the resulting debt come January. The heightened pressure brings out our worst habits as we try to cope with the stress by overeating, drinking alcohol, and other unhealthy behaviors which could have long term effects on our mental and physical health.
Experts agree that the undeniable cause of holiday stress is the oversized expectations and disproportioned focus on material consumption. According to Beth Willinger, research professor at Newcomb College Center for Research on Women at Tulane University, “We have become much more complex and complicated as a society, and expectations have increased. Our expectations as a country have also raised our expectations for overabundance and conspicuous consumption.” It is our expectations that fuel a rash of overspending, dept, and more stress.
So why do we continue in this cycle? According to Kabbalah—a science that studies our innermost motivations, our expectations have gone out of control because our desires have increased. But when a desire increases, so does the emptiness that is felt when the desire is not fulfilled. And everyone knows that a feeling of emptiness is intolerable.
Adding to our stress level is the fact that the desire for overabundance has not lessened even with the current economic climate, yet our ability to fulfill that desire has. Unemployment has reached its highest level in 15 years, holiday bonuses are down two-thirds, and even those of us lucky to keep our jobs are often working longer hours and are usually making less money. We just can’t afford to fulfill our oversized desires and expectations.
What Do We Really Want?
Clearly, something has to change. When people’s expectations and desires can no longer be fulfilled, it’s a sure indication that people must reach for a new kind of fulfillment. After all, what do we really want for the holidays? Our holiday traditions come from our human need for connection; what we really want during this special season is to feel high-spirited, festive, joyful, and connected to those around us. So it’s logical that money and the material things it can buy should not be the centerpiece of the celebration, as much as we might have lost sight of that fact.
The Real Gift
The real gift of the holiday season lies in our interpersonal connections. But more than that, these relationships can actually help us overcome our emotional and financial crises in the longer term.
No one can lift themselves out of emptiness, stress, and bankruptcy alone; we can only lift each other. This holiday season, instead of giving ourselves more anxiety and debt, we can give each other the camaraderie and consideration that we all really need. We can raise each other’s spirits and give each other good impressions that will last much longer than a fruitcake or a Big Lot’s gift card. And it is a gift that only gets better with re-gifting.