Hissy Fit - December 2018

The Economics of Christmas Cheer: Don’t Get Stuck With Diminishing Returns

December 2018 Issue

Recently, back before Thanksgiving, I reminded my 20-year-old daughter to make her Christmas list. Her response: “I don’t like making Christmas Lists.” Her comment whisked me back to childhood, and I told her all about how I would make my list as a child.  “Oh, I used to love making my Christmas list!” I said, which lead to a delightful conversation filled with lots of reminiscing and memories. I told her about the year Dad and I went to Service Merchandise to get my mother’s gift. He bought Mom, my sister and me pearl earrings that year. They didn’t have three pairs alike, so we chose the identical pairs for them, and I got the pair that was a little different. I told her how my father rarely bought Mom or us gifts, and if he did, it was usually on Christmas Eve. Those pearl earrings were extra special, and I still wear them.

I have loved giving presents all my life. It’s not that I don’t like getting them, too, but giving them brings me so much more joy. Plus, I love everything involved in giving presents—picking out what to buy, choosing the giftwrap, wrapping the gift and making it pretty, and arranging gifts under the Christmas tree. When I was little, I would rearrange them every time a new gift was added. At night I would sit in the living room and just stare at the tree and the gifts under it. I’ve been in love with the process since I was old enough to wrap.

As an elementary aged schoolgirl, with no transportation and very little money of my own, I would walk to the mini-mart near my home to Christmas shop for my parents. It’s amazing the treasures one can find in a mini-mart when armed with a pure heart filled with love. Bobby pins, a pair of new hose, and a Snickers bar (her favorite) for Mom, each boxed and wrapped individually with a perfectly matched, extra fancy bow. An air-freshener for his truck, a can of Vienna sausages (he loved those) and Juicy Fruit chewing gum (his favorite) for Dad. He didn’t care about a fancy bow, so he just got a regular one.

I would watch them as they opened their gifts with the hope they would absolutely love them. And, if they didn’t, they never let on. Their happiness was the best gift I could receive, but it didn’t stop me from writing an epic Christmas list of my own each year.

Us kids had tools to inspire our lists back then—powerful things like the Sam Solomon catalog, the Sunday newspaper sales circulars, and Saturday morning television commercials, scattered between “Scooby Do” and “Bugs Bunny,” which touted the latest and greatest toys. Saturday mornings were the best! Mom would let us watch TV all the way to noon before we had to clean our rooms. When I was old enough to be interested in “American Bandstand,” which came on at noon, she would let me watch that, too. Things are special when they are not readily available. It’s basic economics; when the supply is unlimited, demand decreases.

Many of today’s children are numbed by the economics of today’s living—every thing is too readily available and seems to come in unlimited supply. This dynamic, along with a few other factors, have injected a few grinches into the holidays, which steals the joy and wonderment of Christmas:

Grinch No. 1: Instant Gratification. Almost every time a child goes into a store, he or she comes out with something new. Regardless if the child had to wear down his mom or dad with begging, nagging, whining, crying or tantrums (all behaviors that shouldn’t be reinforced with rewards… hint, hint), or if it is parent enabled, both methods give children what they want, when they want, every time they want. This practice is robbing children of the virtue of patience and the thrill of anticipation. It’s no wonder children have difficulty writing a Christmas list. Bottom line: The thrill is gone.

Grinch No. 2:
Over Stimulation. Just like anything in life, too much of a good thing is simply too much. More economics can apply here, too—the theory of diminishing returns. When one is occupied with outside stimulation, one’s imagination, along with other useful facets of the brain—observing, wondering, thinking—are immobilized.  Parents make devastating decisions daily, such as encouraging movies in the car even for a 10-minute journey, allowing incessant video gaming, demanding participation in so many extra-curricular activities children have to eat supper in the car several nights a week, without considering both present and future ramifications. Children are drowning in over stimulation. What starts out as something meant to be good, turns harmful—that is diminishing returns. Who has the desire, or the knowledge, to do something as boring as write a Christmas list when there are screens that beckon to be stared at? Remember Carol Ann from Poltergeist, who got sucked into the television static? That’s where most of our children’s minds live today, but there bodies stay to fill a seat and produce laundry.

Grinch No. 3: Expectation. Expectation is the rival of gratitude, and it kills the elements of joy and surprise. Disappointment and anger are expectation’s best friends.

I’ll never forget Harry Potter’s gluttonous cousin Dudley’s birthday scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: “Thirty-six. That’s two less than last year!” said Dudley with utter contempt. On his eleventh birthday, Dudley Dursley received 36 presents, including a new computer, a second television, a remote control airplane, 16 new computer games, a gold wristwatch, a video recorder, a cine-camera and more. When Dudley counted his presents, he was mortified that he had two fewer than his last birthday.

Dudley was pissed…and he didn’t even know what was in the packages. For him, it wasn’t about the gift, the thought, or the sacrifices made for him, it was only about the amount—the expectation, in which happiness and satisfaction are not included. There are a lot of Dudley’s in the world, and they need help sooner or later, probably sooner. Perhaps their Christmas lists should include a huge slice of humble pie, which ingredients include helping others, ringing the bell, packaging food for the needy, or focusing on helping pick out gifts for others. These things not only produce replenishing (increasing) returns, but also spark the real meaning of Christmas. What a gift it would be if all of our hearts grew three times its size.

Sources: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling