Maybe I am romanticizing when I say that the Christmas of my childhood was not about stuff. There were fewer products, less pervasive advertising, and no Black Friday sales. A few pages at the back of the Sears Wish Book were the inspiration for visions of sugarplums dancing in my head.
Surely, the focus on consumerism is affecting our kids and their ideas of happiness. To find out I contacted Mike Ferry, author of Teaching Happiness and Innovation, whose research on happiness focuses on children.
Ferry sees consumerism as a “big problem” for kids. “In the consumer age, our happiness is based on consuming the latest and greatest and newest.”
Over his years of researching happiness, Ferry has bumped into a phenomenon called the abundance paradox; the more we have, the less we appreciate anything. Mass production and cheap labour markets have created an abundance of readily available goods. As a result of this abundance, “we live in a throw away, disposable age. If our kids are growing up within this abundance paradox concept then it’s really hard for them to see the value in things; it’s hard for them to enjoy anything.”
While Ferry points out that “we might be wired to whine”, modeling gratitude for our kids will help them (and us) become more grateful. “If we can teach our kids to practice gratitude in the home, then we will be able to combat some of this abundance paradox and our children will start to appreciate the little things in life and will be much happier as a result.” This is not only good for the child; it is good for society because grateful individuals have a positive impact on the world.
There has always been hype leading up to Christmas morning. With the abundance of goods, advertising, and the incessant question, “What do you want for Christmas?” kids can easily get the message that Christmas is about them and their stuff.
But there is no need to despair. We can help them become more appreciative and aware of others. Simple things, such as involving your child in charitable giving, writing a thank you note, or baking cookies for a friend, go a long way in helping children learn gratitude.
Everyone wants their kids to be happy on Christmas morning so it can be tempting to go overboard with the gifts. At the same time, we want them to appreciate the gifts they receive and the people in their lives. For the long-term emotional well-being of our kids, it’s important that we successfully navigate the abundance paradox with them.
Our Christmas memories stay with us for a lifetime. When I look back at the many Christmas celebrations over the decades of my life, I remember moments, not stuff.
I remember sitting with the Wish Book on my lap until I had narrowed down my wants before penning that all-important letter to Santa. It was a useful exercise that taught me the wisdom of another paradox. Less is more.