Hey, friend. I see you. You can’t believe it’s December already, the end of the year. But this is no time to reflect; you have things to do, errands to run, plans to make. You probably have fewer work days this month, which just means there’s more to get done in less time, and the deadlines are coming fast. There are gifts to give, but you aren’t sure what they’ll be yet and when you’ll have the time (or money) to buy them. Your inboxes and feeds are filling up with images and links and stories and deals and rants, and you keep scrolling through mindlessly, unsure what you’re looking for.
This time of year can really make us feel frenzied and overwhelmed. If you’re like me, you want to slow down and enjoy the holiday cheer, but sometimes it slips away right under your nose, before you take a minute to breathe.
Despite our best efforts to live in the moment, the average mind is wandering 47% of the time. And that makes us unhappy. The mind craves focus and presence.
But living in the moment, despite our best efforts, is really, really hard. It could be that journaling helps you, or meditating, or long walks, or volunteering, or being kind, or all of that, some other stuff, and more. Or maybe you haven’t quite figured it out yet, and that’s okay too.
Science tells us there's another thing that helps: experiences. In particular, the act of valuing experiences over possessions.
Spending money on experiences gives us more enduring happiness than spending money on stuff. Stuff can make you happy, but it doesn’t last. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who studies happiness, says:
Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.
We are the sum total of our experiences! It’s a simple but powerful idea, an important breadcrumb along the path to happiness.
Something small to try this December could be trading in some online shopping time in favor of a walk with a friend. Or giving experiential gifts instead of material goods. Or treating yourself to a new experience, like seeing a play or planning a trip or, hey, maybe getting a massage.
Whatever you do, give yourself time to slow down—time to reflect, time to look ahead to something new, and maybe even time to enjoy what you’re doing right now.