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The numbers say shop less, spend more time with people

The numbers say shop less, spend more time with people

FiveThirtyEight takes a look at the numbers and concludes we’re making ourselves unhappy with all the time we spend Christmas shopping.

Americans spend increased time [during the holiday season] on stressful activities they claim to dislike, and decrease time spent on activities they say make them happy. And there is a relationship between these changes. When the data is explored to see how the different activities are related to each other, it becomes clear that increases in time spent shopping are statistically correlated to decreases in time spent eating and socializing with friends and neighbors. People are not spending more time on both, but rather seem to be choosing one activity over the other. We are actively replacing things that make us happy with things that make us stressed! This relationship is found only in the data from the holiday season. Looking at the data from the non-holiday year, we do not find these correlations.

In terms of how happy and satisfied people feel, research has shown that participation in holiday traditions and rituals is highly satisfactory and increases positive well-being. The more people enjoy a ritual, the greater their contentment during the holidays. And the more frequently people engage in holiday traditions, the less lonely they’re likely to feel.

Perhaps we can all make our holiday season happier by developing some low-cost traditions and routines that involve time with friends and neighbors — as well as our families — and avoid crowds and shopping, which lead to immediate stress, as well as future financial stress. Sounds easy enough … right?

So why do we do it? In the words of one economist,

Gifts serve many functions such as signalling regard and demonstrating social ties with the recipient. Cash transfers don’t do this as well.

After all, otherwise we could just give each other cash and we’d all be better off. Neither of us would have spent time on the unpleasant task of shopping, and both of us would always be at least as well off with the cash value of the gift than the gift itself. And we’d have more time for each other. But we’re caught in the costly race of signalling we care, because if we don’t it’s assumed we don’t care. Talk is cheap, shopping isn’t.

Jerry, Elaine and Cramer explain all this better here:

Post by John B. Chilton


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