The holiday season is upon us. The city air smells of firs, as Christmas tree vendors set up their wares. The Salvation Army has bell ringers at all the major tourist destinations, soliciting donations, and reminding me of Stubby Kaye in Guys and Dolls.
Shop windows glow.
The spirit of giving warms our hearts. The news is chockablock with stories of people getting trampled as they compete for cheap television sets and other crap.
Why do we go through this every year? It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, atheist or other, you’ll still get caught up in the solstice holidays. What is it about lengthening winter nights that makes us want to buy things, for ourselves and for others?
I used to think it was fear. Our ancestors, in pre-scientific times (or present-day GOP) didn’t understand why the days got shorter. They feared that, without their supplications, the sun would disappear forever. When the days started getting longer, even by just a few minutes, it was cause for celebration and feasting.
What’s our excuse today?
When I think about it, it seems kind of arbitrary to have a time of year when we know we’re going to eat too much, drink too much,and spend too much money, all as part of holiday traditions. I’m especially annoyed by the business news at this time of year, with experts weighing in on how consumer spending makes such a difference to our national economy. I feel guilty if I don’t buy a lot of trinkets because unemployment might go up.
I mean, I like to get presents as much as the next person, but my greed is not limited to certain days on the calendar. If anything, I’m more pleased to receive tribute when I don’t expect to get it, not when it’s an obligation. I like it better when it’s all about me.
Now, if I connect the dots, I might be able to infer a reason for this, at least biologically. Researchers think that there is a relationship between our moods and our buying habits. This follows on previous research that suggests a large percentage of people get depressed in the winter months, when there is less sunlight. As the reporter in this spending story notes, “So, if you’re feeling sad, hide your credit card and avoid selling any stock. Wait until you’re in a happier place.”
They didn’t do any tissue analysis in this more recent experiment, so I don’t know if there’s some kind of dopamine or serotonin effect at work here. If there was a drug you could take that would give one the same feeling as buying a treat for yourself, that would certainly wreck the economy in minutes. On the other hand, I would have so much more room in my closet.
If, like me, you are easily suggestible, and find yourself perusing more catalogs or advertisements at this time of year, you don’t have to be a slave to your brain chemicals. You can shop and do the right thing, just like this New York city cop. He didn’t spend a lot of money, but he changed people’s lives for the better. That’s a pretty efficient way to get to a happier place.
Media Goddess Martha Thomases suggests that, for those of you who don’t live near any homeless people, to consider Heifer International.