Peace and Goodwill until you get the bill | Daily News

Peace and Goodwill until you get the bill

Close your eyes and imagine a totally make-believe world where families just like yours and mine have a long shopping list in their handbags and pockets. But in this fantasy planet, they spend the whole year without buying a single thing they want. Rather than spread their purchases evenly, they wait until the last few days of the year (like right now) to do all their shopping. Come December, they gather towers and towers of goods from overcrowded shopping malls, exhibition halls, school playgrounds and parks converted into markets. Half of the purchases are gifted to friends and family in a shower of love, in spite of the fact that a great deal of the recipients dislike their presents, anyway. It doesn't work out much better for the stores, who encourage this spending binge by slashing prices and heavy advertising campaigns. And this goes on, year after year as faithfully as the sun rises in the mornings. Ever wondered what civilized planet in the whole wide universe would go through this parade of excessive behavior with such devotion?

Ours, of course! So, Merry Christmas!

Is that it? One brief paragraph and my last article for this year comes to an end? Of course not! As the "totally make-believe" story above tried to show, there is a lot about year-end shopping that never gets the attention it deserves .

Especially so, in the light of the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping ”, which in the eyes of psychologists is a phrase filled with immense wisdom.

Retail therapy

For, according to a survey conducted by TNS Global, more than half the shoppers seen in any given shopping mall on any ordinary day, admit to engaging in “retail therapy”— the act of shopping and spending to improve one’s mood. This is in zinc with a previous study, published in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing, that reveals 62% of shoppers purchase something to cheer themselves up, while another 28% purchase goods as a form of celebration.

The concept of retail therapy, however is actually an old idea about the way consumers make buying decisions, albeit with a "brand" name. Scientists say when you shop, your brain weighs the positive consequences — the benefit you will get from consuming — against the negative, or the pain you feel from the financial cost, until one wins out.

There are two parts of your brain involved in this process. The first, the nucleus accumbent, predicts pleasure, while the other, the insula, is involved in the anticipation of pain. It should also be noted that the brain's positive reward center is also closely related to dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, which is released when you anticipate a positive outcome, in this instance the pleasure of possessing something through the act of buying it.


When it comes to buying gifts for others though, Joel Waldfogel, an economics professor at Yale says, "I find that holiday gift giving destroys between one-third and one-tenth of the value of gifts.” What he says might be true. After all, why should you shop for me, when I certainly know what I want better than you do? Prof. Waldfogel, believes a lot of gift-giving occurs between people who don’t know each other and that not all gifts are created equal. He made his estimates by surveying Yale students about how much they valued the gifts they got at the holidays, compared with those gifts’ actual purchase prices. Friends and significant others were pretty good at giving gifts the recipients actually liked; it was aunts, uncles and grandparents who bought the least-loved items.

Thankfully not everyone thinks this is right. Recently, members of the IGM Experts Panel at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business overwhelmingly defended gift-giving as an efficient way for people to show that they care about each other. David Autor of M.I.T. pointed to “revealed preference”: If people give and receive so many gifts, it’s presumably because it makes them happy. Alberto Alesina of Harvard said choosing a gift “is a signal of intensity of search effort,” which in other words mean “it’s the thought that counts.”

On a lighter note, to return to the concept of Christmas shopping, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, which looks at the therapeutic value of shopping and when it can work to improve your mood, everything depends on the emotional state you are in, before you embark on a shopping spree. If you are sad, a feeling often associated with a sense that large, outside forces are in control of your life, the act of buying can improve your mood by allowing you to make choices — where to shop, what to buy — and reassert some level of control over your life. Another study reveals that while shopping makes most people feel better, some admit that they have hidden their purchases from their significant other. Psychologists, however, advice that if you are buying something you truly want or need there is no need to feel guilty, especially if it is your hard earned money!

This could be why Bo Derek said, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”

This, theory though, will not always be hundred percent successful. If you start out angry, for instance, a feeling associated more with undue influence from other people than your own emotions, you are better off trying something else other than shopping for Christmas gifts.

So, it is best to keep in mind that even though Christmas shopping may help cure sadness it won't help with anger. You can shop all you want, but your boss is your boss.

Catch you next year, if my editor will let me continue to write after that last line.

Till then, enjoy the holiday season!

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Here are five things that you can do to consume more mindfully this festive season:

Let others know what your expectations are. Do you want presents from everyone that you know, or do you just want something special from your family or partner? Don't be afraid to tell those around you that you'd prefer a gift card or donation to charity (or nothing at all!) this festive season. If you explain why, they're more likely to respect your decision.

Make time, not rubbish. Instead of rushing around buying up boxes of chocolates and gifts for colleagues, neighbours and others in your social circle, consider giving the present of your presence. Making time to catch up with someone over a cup of coffee or tea is guaranteed to be a moment that they remember and appreciate long after the wrapping paper has been cleared away.

Give mindfully. Is there something that the person you are giving a present to really wants or needs? For those about to embark on an overseas trip, some local currency from their intended destination (easily obtained from an exchange office) can be a thoughtful and enormously practical gift. Have a family member who is a history buff? Tickets to a museum exhibition lets them know that you want them to go out and enjoy themselves!

Give moments, not things. When it comes to the special people in your life, by all means give them that piece of jewelery they've been thinking about all year, or that book they've been unable to track down. But if they don't really need or want a "thing", why not invest in something that they'll really appreciate? Think a romantic dinner, a weekend getaway, or a voucher to dance classes… what experience would remind them how much you love them?



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