We are smack in the middle of the holiday season, in which culture imposes the act of giving on just about everyone, everywhere. Advertisers, corporations, businesses, and banks drive the gift-giving bandwagon for profit via friends, families, colleagues and neighbors. The frenzy of shopping, purchasing, crafting and wrapping is upon us, whether we want to participate or not. There’s no “opt-out” button, unless you decide on a lengthy December cruise or take up Scrooge-esque habits, unbefitting of most Santa Clarita folks just trying to get by.
All of this “giving” can actually give us stress, splitting headaches and an excuse to pour more eggnog at the end of the day. A poll taken just last year found that “braving the shops” at Christmas time raises blood pressure. This same poll also identifies the panic of what gifts to buy (16 percent) and the cost of Christmas (12 percent) as triggers that can cause stress. Everyone knows high blood pressure and stress are bad for the heart.
Can this be good for us as individuals and for culture at large?
Gift-giving traditions have been going on since the Roman era during the holiday called Saturnalia, then later adopted by the newly popular Christianity. Hanukkah, or the “Festival of Lights” with eight days of gift exchanges, gained more regard in the early 1920’s. Kwanzaa came along in the sixties to honor unity and Creativity through the practice of giving gifts.
The pressure for presents is nothing new.
I often wonder what might happen if the deluge of presents and mass consumption were non-compulsory (or at least less-compulsory). Would there be peace on earth? Would there be peace in the Best Buy parking lot and would weary UPS drivers suddenly be able to curl up for long winter’s naps like the poetic tale suggests? Would giving even be a once-per-year thing?
The word “giving” naturally implies volition on the part of the giver. Forced giving would be considered obligatory, which may appear at first glance, counterproductive. Do we give gifts out of our independent free will, or do we fulfill what society requires? Do we clunk along and follow cultural norms with no reflection whatsoever, or do we stop and consider why we do what we do?
A Creative approach to giving will begin with self-reflection. We can check in with our mood, connecting with our internal realm. We may feel stress, but then again, we may feel a flood of happiness while watching our loved ones tear open a package and tear up at the sight of their long-awaited puppy or favorite doll. This experience of utter joy is not just an intangible feeling in our hearts, but can also be physically tracked in our brains.
Neuroscience has proven that giving to others actually produces happy hormones. It releases a rush of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—all chemicals that make us blissful.
With this in mind, giving to others produces happiness and is actually good for our hearts, not bad. It isn’t necessarily a selfless act, and doesn’t need to tax our bodies.
To me, it seems fitting and somewhat harmonious that giving has a built-in reward for the giver—a reciprocation that relies on our mirror neurons and generates empathy. Ultimately, this activity bonds families and profits all of humanity.
Giving fulfills the mission of Creativity—to connect us as humans. So, even compulsory giving can be a powerful tool of Creativity. Perhaps utilizing this tool more than once a year is a good thing for the species. We don’t have to depend on corporate, mass-produced items, either. We can give of ourselves, with smiles and service. We just have to force ourselves to be Creative with our giving so our stress can stay down and our joy can increase.