Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to Resist Gift-Giving "Shoulds"!

Holidays, especially Christmas, are the perfect time to practice living life Absolutely Should-less.  During these last few weeks of every year, regardless of your religion, all of us are bombarded with an excessive flurry of “shoulds” coming at us in all directions.  Family, media, coworkers, department stores, pretty much everywhere you look the message is clear: “You should be buying things.”  The consequence of this is that it results in many people feeling guilty, sad, inadequate, even unlovable.

For many, spending an excessive amount of money is simply not possible.  I know parents who spend the entire year working, struggling, and sacrificing in order to provide food, clothes, safe housing, heat, and school supplies for their children.  An admirable feat, definitely.  But then Christmas comes around and guess what?  None of that matters.  Because adults and kids are all getting the same message -- gifts are more important than love.  “You should give your children expensive gifts to let them know how much you love them.”  See anything faulty about this logic? 

There is an easier way to live in this life.  You can challenge the status quo by choosing to be should-less, and even opting not to give presents if that would be a compromise to your happiness (or for you wallet!).  Unfortunately, choosing to be happier with less shoulds can involve some rejection and disapproval from others.  Deciding one year not to buy Christmas presents, or give birthday gifts, or not to send a card for any “holiday” invented by the card companies, can make you rather unpopular in your family.  Any time anyone breaks away from the status quo they risk some social consequences.  If you are concerned about this, please keep the following in mind: 

Tips for resisting gift giving "shoulds"

1.  This is your life and your life only.  Relatives and friends may judge you for not spending money, but they won’t pay your bills a month later.
2.  People may be thrown off center when you think or act differently.  They may react with surprise or hostility.  But the ones in your life who truly care about you will see how much happier you are.  They will want to support you in living a peace-filled life, and not going into great amounts of debt. 
3.  Sometimes it is better not to give others everything they want for holidays or birthdays.  In fact, by always giving someone gifts at these times, you may unwittingly be sending them a message that love should be expressed primarily through material gifts. 
4.  It can be quite beneficial to teach others, especially children, how to save and budget their own money If they are always getting material items they want, then there is no reason for them to learn how to financially plan. 
5.  By not giving in to societal shoulds, you may be helping someone else in ways you can’t even realize.  By acting in a healthy way, you give others permission to do the same.  There may be someone in your family suffering more financial duress than you, who finds incredible relief when you’re the first one to stand up against holiday/birthday shoulds.  Her shame about her financial situation may have prevented her from speaking up, but because you have done it, that road is paved. 

Holidays can be a wonderfully fun and peaceful time for you and your loved ones.  Or they can be a living hell. Which are you choosing?

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, bullying, caretaking fatigue, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, and with couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To schedule a visit, email at


Suzanne said...

That's all well and good, but what if you are married to a cheapskate who hates Christmas? :)

Damon L. Jacobs said...

Great question! Then I would wonder which is perceived as a problem, teh "cheapskate" part, or the "hates Christmas" part.

Either way, it is up to YOU to have a fulfilling and joyful holiday, not your spouse. You have the right and the responsibility to have a good time. If you choose to assign someone else that responsibility, then you're setting yourself up to be frustrated, resentful, burnt out.