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More is better, right? TV ads insist you’ll be happier during this holiday season if you can buy and gift more—to your loved ones and to yourself. (By some definitions, apparently, generosity no longer has to involve a second person.) Who can ever have enough? Many families currently reserve entire rooms in the house strictly to display and store mass quantities of toys—even for children who can barely walk. We’re encouraged to buy to our limits and beyond as a patriotic act of consumerism.
Curious about the impact of all those toys, I started challenging myself to remember specific toys from my many years of receiving–especially on Christmas morning. I had to strain to remember more than one or two. I had an easier time recalling the gifts that belonged to my siblings. I turned to my husband. Likewise, he could recall only one or two presents without extensive effort. Even our daughter could cite only a couple. However, when I asked for memories of Christmas, no one hesitated. Most of us have vast storehouses of holiday memories—good and bad, and they all involve other people.
Memory works best when information is tied to emotions. We remember incidents with other people because we cared. We loved. We envied. We resented. We despaired. We felt. Our connections with other people may be the absolute most important element in our lives—the meaning. Connections can extend our life spans.
Without descending into maudlin sentimentality, go ahead. Try the little test. In a few minutes or less, list the gifts you received over the years—for whatever occasion. Don’t resort to remembering what you did with the gifts later—went ice skating with friends, got in a fight with your brother over the airplane, sold your Barbie for scandalous money. Just think of the receiving. How many items are on your list? Then start remembering the times—when you made snow people after dinner, when you decorated cookies with Gramma, when you set up your militia with Dad. See how much easier the experiences are to recall?
At this time, a few of us are worrying about the gifts we’ve given. Were they enough? Were they too much? Did we provide the very thing that was most desired?
The best part of any gift was the love. Obligatory gifts have only face value and that depreciates quickly—even for children. Woe to the parent who overspends only to hear, “Is that all?” Maybe we give too much stuff. More stuff is simply…more stuff. Where is the expanded meaning? Stuff isn’t love. You don’t need to have a mushy Hallmark moment or a Madison Avenue frenzy in order to create a treasured memory. You just have to connect.