Maybe Happiness Shouldn’t Come from A Store

That Doesn’t Mean I Want Holiday Retailers Knocking on My Door

“Maybe Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more?” (The Grinch from How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

I thought I was safe in my home from the annual Holiday Shopping Attack. Years ago, I vowed to scale my shopping back in an attempt to lower stress and reduce overconsumption. I avoided Black Friday like the plague and stayed away from malls during the entire month of December. I assumed, once I made this annual retreat, I’d be safe and snug in my home — reading a good book in front of the fire while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate — waiting for the new year to arrive.

And then the attack came to my front door, busted through it, and decided to take up permanent residence in my home. The holiday frenzy was no longer out there — it was inside my living space, my computer, my phone, and my brain. And there was no place left to run or hide.

Once upon a time, I welcomed Cyber Monday. Internet shopping was better, or so I believed, than ordinary brick-and-mortar shopping. It allowed me to make my holiday purchases quickly and conveniently from the comfort of my home. I didn’t need to go out in freezing weather, hassle with parking, or juggle large packages. I also had control of where, when, and how I shopped. I didn’t exhaust myself, wandering aimlessly for hours from store to store.

Instead, I searched intentionally and consciously for precisely what I wanted, made my purchases, and received terrific deals. The best part? I completed the bulk of my shopping in one day. It was the most exceptional shopping experience of my life — until it wasn’t.

I now hate Cyber Monday. What started as fun and convenient, has become a burden. I’m overwhelmed by the immense number of ads and offers that flood my email inbox during the season. It’s as if every website I ever visited, if only for one second, now has the key to my home and can barge in uninvited to give me their crass sales pitch. Sure, I can plug my ears and hurry them out of my house quickly. But there’s a line forming at my front door with countless retailers and service providers screaming for attention. And no matter how politely I ask them to leave, they keep coming back.

Instead of shopping this Cyber Monday, I spent the entire day unsubscribing from hundreds of email subscriptions. It was a tedious process, made only slightly less tedious by listening to podcasts while I unsubscribed. I decided to be ruthless. I didn’t care how long I’d been a loyal customer — I removed anyone who sent me a sales pitch for Cyber Monday (so basically, everyone).

My response may seem cold or Grinch-like, but enough is enough. I receive hundreds of emails a day, and probably three times more during the holidays. Some days, my brain can’t absorb it all. When it’s too much, everything gets ignored. And then I risk missing an important message, which could have severe consequences in my life. How am I supposed to find the one nugget of gold when a mountain of trash surrounds it?

Years ago, I became so overwhelmed with the amount of material objects accumulating in our home that I asked friends and family to please stop purchasing gifts for us during the holidays. A few abided by my wishes. Many looked at me as if I were the Grinch, or as if I had just kicked a puppy.

Perhaps to some people, shopping does bring them great joy, or at least it feels that way. In all likelihood, shopping creates a pleasurable experience because our brains release dopamine. We are wired to accumulate stuff because in our evolutionary past, the more things we had, the more likely we were to survive. But we live in a world of abundance. And our current survival does not depend on stockpiling cheaply-manufactured, overpriced tchotchkes, sweaters, electronics, or scented-candles.

Assisting the global climate crisis does not bring me even temporary joy. And I do not get a dopamine release watching these unwanted gifts eventually end up in my trash after having been neglected and unused for years.

Still, we encourage our children to politely smile and accept unwanted gifts because “it’s the thought that counts.” But why does the buyer’s thought count more than the recipient’s thought? My thought is that the overconsumption of mass-produced products is negatively impacting our environment. And that thought keeps me awake at night.

Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash, green contributors to Forbes, advise people to consider charitable giving during the holidays in place of shopping. They state, “rampant consumerism, aided by advertising and social media, is contributing to the overconsumption crisis, which shows up in groundwater depletion, deforestation, and river and ocean pollution.”

Assisting the global climate crisis does not bring me even temporary joy. And I do not get a dopamine release watching these unwanted gifts eventually end up in my trash after having been neglected and unused for years. Contributing more waste to our planet fills me with existential anxiety.

I understand people need to make a living and promote their wares. My husband worked in the retail industry for thirty years. Holiday shopping was his company’s bread and butter and thus provided our family with a very comfortable lifestyle. But I think we can agree; consumerism has gotten out of hand. We’ve become a throwaway culture, always wanting shiny and new. And yet we have so much stuff we rent storage units to warehouse surplus items that no longer fit into our homes.

I’m in the process of downsizing my life, so perhaps my opinion is skewed at the moment. But I’ve had more, and it didn’t make me happy. I’m not sure less will make me happy either, but it will create less waste, and I won’t spend my days trying to declutter my home or find more space to store my possessions.

Remember, the Grinch didn’t steal Christmas by stealing the Whos’ presents. Christmas came just the same. But the retail industry has stolen the spirit of the holidays. They’ve taken something that could be about community and connection, and they’ve turned it into a pure grab for cash. Every year, the marketing seems to become even more aggressive and intrusive. And yet, the message they send doesn’t add up. No matter how much we purchase and consume — material objects do not make us happier. At least not in the long-term.

As Dr. Seuss taught us decades ago — Christmas doesn’t and shouldn’t come from a store.

What do I want for Christmas, you ask? It’s simple. And I will say it in Seussian rhyme:

My gifts are not expensive. In fact, I didn’t spend a dime.

They’re not likely to be purchased at the mall or from online.

I love it when you give me your attention and your time.

The gifts that keep on giving are the ones we wrap in love.

So at Christmas and always, let’s wrap the world in love.

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I write, create, instruct. My curiosity is expansive — health, happiness, relationships, spirituality, TV/film, psychedelics, feminism, neuroscience, life.

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