Happiness is…..knowing where material things stand during (and after!) Christmas.
A 2002 study cited in the Journal of Happiness Studies, “What makes for a merry Christmas” by Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon involved interviewing 117 respondents on their “satisfaction, stress and emotional wellbeing” during the Christmas season. It concluded that:
“…family and religion provided the greatest benefit to holiday well-being whereas the secular, materialistic aspects of the holiday either contributed little to Christmas joy, or were associated with less happiness and more stress and unpleasant affect. Such findings fit well with research about how family, religion and materialism relate to well-being during the rest of the year (Kasser, 2000; 2002, Myers, 2000) and suggest that the path to a merry Christmas comes not from purchasing many expensive gifts at the mall, wrapping them, and placing them under the tree, but instead from satisfying deeper needs to be close to one’s family and find meaning in life.”
I got in touch with Dr Kasser and asked him how he celebrates Christmas:
…. my family does celebrate Christmas. My wife and two sons are Christian, although I am not. We grow our own Christmas trees and so my boys and I typically go and chop one down, and then the boys and my wife decorate it. We have a low key Christmas Eve, as my wife goes to an evening service at her church and then picks up a pizza for dinner. Christmas day the boys open some presents from their relatives. We have found that we can not control the grandparents so well in terms of what they want to buy for the children.
But we try to limit the presents to some small things in the stockings, and two medium size gifts for each boy. We also always give them coupons that they can redeem throughout the year. The coupons are for a variety of things, such as being able to skip a chore or a meal that they do not like, having the chance to visit the library, getting extra screen time (as they are limited to 30 minutes per day), having extra dessert, etc. For dinner, we have a vegetarian tofurkey and some sides.
Then we leave on the 26th to visit my mother and brother’s family in Louisville. We have implemented a gift exchange with that part of the family, in which the adults all draw one of each other’s name and then only buy for that person (instead of everyone buying for everyone). A similar gift exchange happens among the younger cousins as well.
I thank Dr Kasser for taking the time to respond. I also greatly value the honesty of his response. His answer raises the real-life complexities of trying new ways of being that run counter to what people are used to. I also like the idea of getting fewer gifts. It echoes the Advent Conspiracy’s idea for us to even buy one less gift for Christmas.
One thing that has helped me over the years is to be less “all or nothing” and be comfortable with doing my best, embracing contradictions and difficulties yet staying conscious and honest about them. And still moving in a positive direction…
My next post will be on alternative gifts and alternatives to gifts.