Friday, December 29, 2017

The Mathematics of Appreciation

Let me confess that I was a perfect, red-blooded, patriotic American who did my duty to do what all of us American are expected to do. Meaning I bought way too many presents for my grandchildren! But I will also confess I fell short on the G.I. Joe/ Barbie/ Nintendo side of the equation. For 6-year old Zadie, I bought gifts like a pair of chopsticks attached at the top like a clothespin (ie, training chopsticks), the Uno card game, a Concentration game with faces of children of diverse ethnic identities, a jumprope, a wallet with foreign money inside that I had collected over the years, a dinner out downtown at an Asian restaurant (the chopsticks worked!) followed by a wonderful play (see last blog), a second-hand pair of sneakers and more.

So I feel good about each gift and how it matches Zadie’s developing personality and how satisfying it was to play Uno with 8 people last night and feel how much she was loving the game. But it is the “more” that concerns me. Because in the course of actually opening the gifts on Christmas morning, it was more like a Black Friday Walmart trample than a slow savoring of each and every gift. Between her grandparents, her aunt, her parents and Santa, Zadie got A LOT of gifts. And again, each one carefully considered and just right. But it was the sheer abundance of them that made it so hard for her to appreciate each one, to enjoy, to savor, to feel grateful. She would look at a gift for 5 seconds and then try to go tearing into the next. Sometimes she's whine about her brother's Malik's present or complain that she got yet another book or prematurely express disappointment that she didn't get one of the gifts she asked Santa for. We did our best to reign her in and slow things down, but you can see she was caught in the throes of a genuine syndrome—too much means never enough.

And this just seems to be a law of sorts. Abundance breeds greed and dissatisfaction with what one has. Scarcity breeds generosity and thankfulness. As Mary Pipher eloquently noted in her book The Shelter of Each Other:

Today we have the poverty of consumerism, which means never having enough…bring ‘thirsty in the rain.’ …We are too rushed to do the things we really value. With more entertainment we are more bored. With more time-saving devices we have less time. With more books, we have fewer readers… (p. 81)

And so on. As Zadie began to use or wear some of the gifts over the next couple of days, her excitement and appreciation slowly grew, but truth be told, the frenzy of unwrapping on Christmas morning ended up in retrospect feeling a little creepy.

Ever-solution-oriented, we have some ideas for next year.

1)    Buy less.

2)    Follow a 5-minute unwrapping rule. Only one person unwraps at a time and we all focus on that particular gift for 5-minutes. If it’s a shirt, put it on and model it. If it’s a book, read aloud from the back cover or select a random passage to share. If it’s a card game, play one hand. Yes, it will prolong the whole ritual (though maybe not—see Number 1), but who’s in a hurry on Christmas Day. Why not take time to savor. Maybe even take a break for breakfast and resume later.

So I hope to try this next year. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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