The Pursuit of Having-ness

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 12/09/2012 - 21:04

          …’tis the season. The season of Christmas, of Santa’s elves and reindeer bells, of carolers singing Silent Night and Christmas trees with colorful lights, of beautiful gingerbread houses and winning prizes. This is the season when the Christmas story is told over and over, reminding us of the simple way in which the Christ child came into this world. In other households, the story of Hanukkah reminds people of the miracle of the oil witnessed by the Maccabees.

         And yet, it is also the season of Black Friday, Early Bird specials, and early, Early Bird specials. It is, what I call, the season of having-ness. I must admit to indulging in some of these guilty pleasures. Of shopping the Midnight Madness sales and gleefully finding treasures. Of sipping hot chocolate at Starbucks after a long night of downtown shopping. I am not alone, I find. According to some financial pundits, holiday spending is projected to return to pre-recession levels. The average shopper plans to spend $854 on presents this year, approaching the $859 that the average shopper planned to spend in 2007. Spending money, however, is not the only way we display our pursuit of having-ness.

          There are many other subtle, but pervasive, forms of having-ness. Are we having the best party in the neighborhood? Do we have the best cookies at the cookie-swap? Have we found the best present of the year for our children or grandchildren? Speaking of the “best” gifts, have you heard of the “Elf on the Shelf?” This toy, as I understand, is not only a “must have,” but now we have opened ourselves up to another level of having-ness. Because, you see folks, the elf does not just sit on the shelf. It moves around the house, doing naughty things, and this, of course, means having the greatest ideas on what those naughty gimmicks are going to be. And I’m not talking easy here folks. Some of these involve the elf having a marshmallow fight, or a feather pillow fight, or baking cookies and leaving a mess -- for mommies and daddies to clean up, of course. You get the idea…

          So, why is it that despite much evidence that having more does not contribute to being happier or more satisfied, we continue this pursuit of having-ness, season after season? Is this now the tradition? Or is it easier than figuring out what will actually make us happy? I can tell you, as someone who devours literature on happiness, it is indeed not straightforward to figure out what might actually make us happy. I mean, we have complex equations out there like H = S+C+V (from Jonathan Haidt, the Happiness Hypothesis), and then we have some simple (or is it simplistic) rules like “just act happy, it will make you happy,” (David Myers, Psychology Today). There’s even some research out there suggesting that pursuing happiness actually makes it harder to achieve happiness. Happiness seems to be more of a byproduct of doing certain things, perhaps engaging in certain pursuits. Generally, these seem to fall along the lines of exploring personally meaningful goals, engaging in social activity, and volunteering for worthy causes.

          Hmm.. maybe there is something worth pursuing after all this holiday season. Maybe there’s a way to get the best of both worlds, having-ness and happiness. The formula would seem something like this, SL(Shopping Less) = HMMTWLO(Having More Meaningful Time with Loved Ones). I will confess, in trying to honor multiple family traditions, not to mention keeping up with the deals and the delicacies out there, its hard to stay true to myself and the meaning of the season. But, its time to make a choice folks, and  I don’t know about you, but this year I might just pass on the deals and have a more relaxed holiday season. Pass the pie please, I’m having more…

Smita Nagpal, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist & Licensed Professional Counselor, and co-owner of Still Waters Counseling, LLC. She serves on the board of Saline Area Schools Community Mental Health Committee (Saline Alive) and a Saline Area Schools Strategic Planning Committee. She can be reached at (734)944-3446. Questions can be submitted for Dr. Nagpal through the Saline Post.