Waterdeep is, in my opinion, one of the best bands of the last 20 years. Never mind that they have a smaller following than, say, Limp Bizkit or Matchbox 20 or LMFAO. They are awesome. I started listening to them circa 1997 and I simply have not stopped. Because of this, their songs have basically become the soundtrack of my life. The Christmas season is no different, and to get the ball rolling on my post encouraging us all to spend less, I offer a few lines from one of my most favorite Waterdeep songs, “If You Want To Get Free.”
I am so often deterred from my actual intent
By distractions in a cellophane wrap.
And by a cruel voice that taunts me when I open them up
To find just one more box full of crap.
What is our actual intent in gift-giving? I happen to be of the persuasion that, generally speaking, when people set out to do good things, it is because they have good motivations. As time passes our motivation can get clouded, but perhaps we can retrieve the essence of what we want to achieve by retracing our steps.
Have you, or do you know someone who has, bought progressively more expensive Christmas gifts over the years for their spouse or family members? Five years ago, you agreed on a spending limit of $50. But then one of the involved parties had to go and spend $65, which of course made the other involved party feel a little embarrassed. So the next year you said, “Seventy-five dollars, and that’s all. I mean it!” But one thing led to another and this Christmas you’ll end up spending $250 on each other. Why? Again, I am an eternal optimist, and so I am going to choose to focus on the nobler motivations at play here.
1. I want to celebrate you. You are very special to me, and you have done and been for me when maybe I couldn’t do or be for myself. This makes me feel humbled and grateful. As such, I want you to feel treasured.
2. I want to bless you. We will celebrate our second Christmas with our daughter this year, and when she saw our Christmas tree for the first time last week, I am pretty sure I got more joy from watching the wonder on her sweet face than she did from having the actual experience. Parenthood is amazing that way. Our children are the most precious gifts we have ever received, and so we want them to feel treasured.
3. I want to share love where it maybe wouldn’t be shared otherwise. You can’t repay me. Maybe you won’t even know who I am. But I’ll know that you had a good meal and some warm moments because of me. Every human being on this planet deserves love, and so we want to share that love with as many people as possible this holiday season.
Like I said, I’m focusing on the nobler motivations here. Perhaps the stupid White Elephant gift you have to take to the office party for the job you don’t even enjoy very much – perhaps that doesn’t fit into any of those three categories. Um, you’re on your own there. But I think these three motivations cover most of our gift giving anyway.
For me (and maybe for you), base motivations for gift giving have absolutely nothing with a price tag. It’s not a formula like, “I want you to feel loved + I spend $100 = You feel loved.” And anyway, times are tough for a lot of folks right now. So I wrap up this blog post with a few practical ideas for ways to achieve your actual intent for the holiday season without spending tons of moolah.
1. Go handmade. Listen, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart. In fact, for these three ideas, you probably only have to be moderately conscious to achieve a pretty impressive result.
2. I’m cheesy, sappy, et al…therefore, I love receiving the little coupon books that offer stuff like free babysitting, a homecooked meal, cleaning the bathroom (the bane of my existence!), and so on.
3. Give experiences rather than material items. This report aired on NPR in 2009, which explained a scientific study that discovered people get more enjoyment out of fun experiences than they do out of receiving gifts. A person’s enjoyment of, say, an iPod will diminish over time. But if you can give someone a good experience (a nice dinner, tickets to a play, a gift certificate for a manicure), their enjoyment of that experience actually increases in their memory. The material item may break or get boring or become outdated; but the memory of that fun experience really does – is scientifically proven to – get better with each retelling. The implications here are rather compelling.
For what it’s worth, my husband and I have given homemade hot chocolate mix to our friends and family the last few years, to rave reviews. And we are starting a new tradition this year of spending a good portion of our Christmas money on taking a family trip. This year we will spend a couple of days in the lodge of Mt. Magazine State Park, and I have got to say, I am looking forward to that weekend so much – probably more than anything else that is on this month's calendar.