December 6, 2013

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Article

My Holiday Wish

Let Go of Excessive Expectations this Season

By Natalie Gochnour

December 6, 2013

For many, the holidays are the best time of year. It’s a chance to relish a season of giving, celebration and tradition. But there’s also an ugly underbelly that we don’t often discuss—the sadness that many people feel during this time of year.

My father was a psychiatrist. It’s a noble profession that improves people’s lives. He’s gone now, but I have distinct memories of December and January being his busiest months. As an adolescent I could never reconcile this happiest time of year with my father’s patient load. Isn’t this the season to be merry and bright?

The years have taught me why the holidays are difficult for many, including myself. We place an absurd amount of expectations on ourselves, and we just can’t deliver on them all. For far too many, expectations turn to disappointment and the holidays bring the blues.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

A Healthy Approach

I went to lunch with a good friend and explained my theory about excessive expectations and the holiday blues. She agreed and added this insight: It’s not about expectations per se; it’s about consumption as a “volume sport.” Consumption becomes a problem when it gets out of line. When we get caught up in the more, more and still more, we lose sight of what’s best.

The truth is excessive consumption is a close cousin to misplaced expectations. And excessive expectations can have a corrosive effect on our lives. Instead of finding joy in the moment, we try to create grander moments. Grander moments lead to expectations of still grander moments and more things. Before you know it, we spend far too much time servicing our wants and we lose track of our needs. The seeds of discontentment are planted. A feeling of sadness replaces what could be the sweetest time of year.

There’s an economic connection here. The holiday buying season is critical to retailers. For them, it’s all about consumption because this is the time when retailers make or break their sales targets for the year.

But the best retailers will understand what I’m saying. Don’t let your purchasing get out of control. Over the long term, it’s not good for retailers when households have excessive debt levels. When people spend what they do not have, all of us pay a price.

A better approach to life and even the economy is to make the holidays a time of genuine friendship and meaningful connection. We should tell the people we love exactly how we feel. We should quell the endless pressure to meet expectations—to look just right, to serve the perfect family meal, to give a great present or to show well compared to the neighbors. We should be optimistic and build up our emotional reserves. Over the long run, happy people make better consumers.

Less is More

So my holiday wish is simple. I want to simplify the holidays, and Christmas specifically. I don’t want more; I want less. I want the holidays to be about people … happy people. I want our holiday expectations to be in line with our ability to pay. I want Utah families to recognize that time together, even if you are eating cheap ramen, is far more meaningful than endless consumption. I want those who have the means to share their abundance with others to do so. I want people who suffer from depression this time of year to keep their expectations in check. Remember, you are not alone. It passes. Relish the moments with family and friends. Keep your chin up.

Frank Lloyd Wright had it right when he referenced wealthy societies like ours. He said, “Many wealthy people are little more than the janitors of their own possessions.”

Free yourself from ill-conceived expect-ations and consumption patterns and enjoy a wonderful holiday season.   


Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.

 

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