Get More At Christmas by Giving Less

 (3 min read)

For some, the holiday season can stir up feelings of stress and anxiety.

The pressure is on to get the shopping done, put up the tree, hang the lights, wrap the presents, make the perfect dinner, and, if there’s any time left over, actually enjoy the season!

On top of this, there’s financial pressures. Christmas is, after all, probably one of the most materialistic holidays there is.

Nowadays, it seems like more is better. People expect big-ticket items under the tree including the latest phones, tablets, jewelry, designer clothes, trips, or even keys to a brand new car. It seems like every year, we have to “top” the gifts that we gave and received last year. We’re always having to outdo ourselves and impress everyone else.

But, have you ever stopped and asked yourself if getting and giving so much stuff is truly making everyone happier?

A few years ago, when my partner and I celebrated our first Christmas together, I remember asking him what he was getting for his parents. When he responded that he was getting his dad “a book,” and his mom, “maybe a pair of gloves,” I waited for him to go on….

“Are you getting anything to go with the book and the gloves?” I asked.

“No.” He said. “Why would I need something to go with them? The book and gloves are the gifts.”

It might be worth noting that my partner is from Europe, so a part of me believes that it’s a “cultural thing” (being from North America, a favourite pastime of mine is idealizing the mysterious ways of the Europeans, although, I’ve talked to some who believe that even Scandinavia is jumping on the “American” bandwagon of “more is better”).

So, maybe it is that my partner’s family is more traditional, but it really made me stop and think…

“Boy, Christmas sure would be a lot less stressful and more economical if we all shopped like this!” I said.

It turns out, it might make us a lot happier, too.

A few fun facts:

  • Materialists are less happy than non-materialists because they aren’t able to show gratitude for what they already have. Each time they make a new purchase, they raise the bar and desire the next best thing (Tsang et al., 2014).
  • People who win the lottery show only short-term increases in happiness. These increases aren’t nearly as high as expected, and their happiness falls to baseline not long afterwards (Brickman, Coates & Janoff-Bulman, 1978).
  • People experience greater satisfaction from having experiences than from getting “things.” Long-term enjoyment can be maintained long after experiences are over (via reminiscing about them- like posting photos on Facebook), whereas enjoyment obtained from “things” quickly wears off (Van-Boven & Gilovich, 2003).
  • People report greater levels of happiness after spending money on others rather than on themselves, even though they predict that spending on themselves will make them happier. This holds true whether spending $5 or $20 (Dunn, Aknin & Norton, 2013).

With this being said, here are 6 things you can do to get more this Christmas:

1|  Agree to give/spend less.  Agreeing is very important so no one’s left feeling gypped here! Make sure your family mutually decides to give only one item per person this year, or to set a budget of, say, $40 per person.

2|  Include only items that you’ve wanted for at least three months on your wish list.  This will help you exclude things that you want just for the sake of it, and will leave everyone feeling more appreciative come Christmas morning.

3|  Make your own wrapping paper.  Keeping in mind the work you’re going to put into each wrapped gift might be motivation enough to cut down on how much you buy.

4|  Keep a “gradvent” (gratitude + advent) calendar.  Instead of eating a chocolate every day for the month of December (okay, well you can do this, too!), try writing down 3 things you’re grateful for. This will help curb your desire for more things, because you’ll feel more satisfied with what you already have.

Download your free gradvent calendar here!

5|  Give and wish for “experiences.”  As we’ve learned, gifting an at-home massage or an indoor picnic will stay with you and your significant other far longer than getting the latest iPhone.

6|  If you receive a money gift, spend (at least part of it) on someone else.  Give it to your favourite charity. Buy a homeless person a hot meal. Watch your satisfaction soar by increasing someone else’s happiness!


Brickman P., Coates, D. & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917-927.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B. & Norton, M. I. (2013). Prosocial spending and happiness: Using money to benefit others pays off. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 347-355.

Tsang, J., Carpenter, T. P., Roberts, J. A., Frisch, M. B. & Carlisle, R. D. (2014). Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 64, 62-66.

Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To do or to have? That is the question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 1193-1202.






2 thoughts on “

  1. I so agree with you and we have been doing this for about 8 years. I truly believe that a no stress holiday season combined with getting together with people you really care for are what makes this a great season


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s