It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Festive Christmas carols are on an endless loop, it’s totally acceptable to regress and act like a kid, and every 1,200-calorie caramel latte you drink tastes like joy in a cup. There’s also fights over parking spaces, an increase in DUIs, and rapid debt accumulation. Yet we’ll gladly endure all the negative side effects for that holiday high. Oh yes, the holiday season is like a potent drug that keeps us coming back for more.

Shopping Under the Influence

We’re driven to buy and consume during the holiday season. We’ve been conditioned by psychological triggers that put us in consumption mode. That display of Christmas lights and ornaments by the Halloween candy—that was no mistake. The onslaught of Christmas marketing has inched its way into the preceding months without much consumer resistance. Why? Because the holidays make us feel good in so many ways.

#1  We automatically associate the holidays with nostalgic memories of our childhood.

Simply remembering the joy of picking out a tree with your family or the excitement of getting that bike you so desperately wanted can cause you to experience those same emotions in present time. Or maybe it’s the closeness with your siblings you remember. We use the holidays as an opportunity to re-experience those emotions and then we try to re-create them.

Even when the holidays bring up painful memories for us, we’ll work hard to create joy to numb the bad feelings, fill a void, or give ourselves or our children the Christmas we never had. Nostalgia is powerful and the marketing industry knows this. That’s why holiday ads often depict stories straight from our mental diaries.

#2 We are subtly driven to buy.

Most consumers are aware of marketing techniques like commercials and ads that convince us to spend our hard-earned cash. But did you know there are more subtle tricks being used to make us buy? In the Psychology Today article, This Is Your Brain On Holiday Shopping, professor of psychology Dr. Kit Yarrow reports that shoppers are often influenced by environmental cues without any awareness.

For example, the color red is stimulating and energizing while the color green evokes feelings of optimism. And who doesn’t want to feel optimistically energized while holiday shopping? Even smells such as peppermint and pine are wafted into the air to tap into our nostalgia and create environments where customers want to linger in stores and shop longer. Thank goodness there’s a Cinnabon nearby to keep us nourished.

#3 Making others happy, makes us feel good.

While giving without expectation is a selfless act, the truth is we get something out of it. We feel good about what we did. It offers us an opportunity to evoke joy and happiness in others. Giving is a powerful act because it can evoke strong emotions in others and make us feel more connected and valued.

However, the intensity and duration of these feelings are influenced by our motives. Giving that’s done out of pressure or guilt can often feel burdensome or the pleasure is short-lived. While giving strictly because you expect something in return can end in disappointment.

Unfortunately, motive-driven gift giving is what advertiser promote to encourage overspending and impulsive purchases. We’re constantly bombarded with ads for “last minute gift ideas” and expensive products that are on sale for a “limited time only”. We literally buy into these psychological tactics and it sucks all the magic out of the giving experience.

I’m the first to admit that I’m somewhat addicted to all the joy that Christmas brings. It’s hard not to get caught up. But I’m also disheartened by what the holidays are becoming. I’m feeling less inclined to buy gifts and more excited at the idea of creating memories. Because a gift is really just the physical thing that we attach all the good emotions too. I’m saying let’s cut out the costly props and skip straight to the heart of it. Give more of your love. Give more of your time. The thrill of new clothes and gadgets will fade but memories will keep us feeling high.

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