Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holiday Commercialism and the "Blues"

It's starting already: after weeks of seeing Christmas decorations on store shelves, the first of the official Holiday sales are well underway. Stores across America are advertising "pre-Black Friday" deals. The mall is already chaos. And instead of the traditional early-morning promotions the day after Thanksgiving, many retailers are opening at midnight on Thanksgiving! Seriously?

Now, there are many reasons the winter holiday season is associated with increased depression - fewer hours of daylight, more contact with extended family...but a major factor is unrealistic expectations (of ourselves and each other). We try to measure our own value in how perfectly we can prepare holiday food, decorations, and wrappings. We try to quantify love in the number and value of gifts that we give...all while trying to pay less for them than they're worth (because we don't want to BUY less, even if finances are tight, lest people think we love them less!).

With this "scoring" system, it's very hard for any of us to come out ahead in the game, but there are many ways to end up feeling like the loser: We could have gotten a better deal. We got something for someone who didn't get us something (or vice versa). We gave someone a higher/lower value gift than they gave us (do they love us less/more?). We got something someone already has, or is the wrong size/color, or they just plain don't want (and vice versa). Someone ruined the surprise, or messed up the wrapping.

Yes, the whole thing can leave a bad taste in your mouth...along with feelings of disappointment, hurt, frustration, and anger (and that's not counting the stress and frustration of braving those sales I mentioned at the beginning!).

Beating the holiday "blues" is best accomplished not by coping more effectively with disappointment, hurt, and frustration after the fact, but by setting ourselves up to have a better holiday by lightening some of the expectations we (and our families) may hold.

For example, many people in my extended family only see each other on Christmas. However, for many years, everyone exchanged presents with everyone else. As a result, people got things they didn't want, were offended that others didn't know them any better than that, and had spent a lot of money that would become a stress for the next few months. Someone had a meltdown every year.

Then, one year my mom announced that she would not be exchanging presents. She decided to donate the money she would have spent, and instead instituted a "white elephant" exchange. Everyone brings one gift (and the rule is that it has to be something you already have laying around the house), picks a number out of a hat, and each in turn can pick from the wrapped presents, or "steal" from others who have already picked. People still got things they didn't want, but everyone left feeling good, and there were no meltdowns. Why? Because people didn't come expecting to get something they wanted, but to have fun in the process of getting something they didn't want.

Now is a good time to think about how to shift expectations in your life to take some of the pressure out of having a "perfect" holiday, and enjoy it more in the process. What have you or people you know done to plan for a truly happy, rather than perfect, holiday?

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