It is that time of the year again! Holiday season is in full swing and many people ask themselves again the question what gifts they should get for their dear ones this year. I personally want my gifts for others to be meaningful and positively surprising. I really dig the moment when I see the glow in the receiver’s eyes which may even well up for a short moment. It gives me this warm and deeply satisfying sensation in my body – a moment of joy and deep connection. Needless to say, in our Western society the holiday season is the peak season of the year for retailers and consumer brands. Ultimately, November and December sales figures have a significant effect on the annual financial result.

The act of giving per se is something we human beings as social creatures enjoy. It is deeply fulfilling on a personal level. In a research study the two psychologists Ed O’Brien (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) and Samantha Kassirer (Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management) have found that that those who give gifts are happier and happier for longer than those who receive gifts. O’Brien and Kassirer explain this result through the underlying concepts of hedonic adaption, the decreasing joy when receiving gifts and a human’s desire to maintain a prosocial reputation, reinforcing our sense of social connection and belonging. When people focus on an object or an outcome in the process of receiving something they can easily compare against other objects and outcomes. This in turn diminishes their sensitivity to each experience. When people concentrate on the action of donating or giving something they focus on the experience instead. This means they compare less or not all. And so, each act of giving becomes a unique happiness-inducing event. On a personal note, my parents seem to experience great joy when giving me gifts. As a receiver, I have truly cherished some of these things for which then I have expressed my heartfelt gratitude. On the flip side, that does not hold true for a good percentage of the things which I have gotten from them over the years. These gifts I neither needed nor appreciated very much. As Socrates put it: “How many things are there which I do not want.” And faking heartfelt gratitude becomes very hard if not impossible in these instances. These unwanted things just become stuff which just sits there for a while before selling them, giving them away or trashing them. Today we as a family often talk about conscious consumption and heartfelt giving and receiving across three generations.

So, what do we buy for our dear ones? In a world of climate change, destruction of ecosystems, overconsumption, exploitation of resources, a widening gap between “the haves” and “the have nots” and general social injustice this may be a very hard question to answer. Inevitably the question pops up: “What is conscious and ethical consumption?” How do we know? How can we know? Which moral standards do we base our purchasing decisions on? The first step is therefore to create transparency and do some research Comparing the options and making a deliberate decision is what counts. However, this takes effort and time and it is not always easy. What do certain labels mean in the big jungle of certification labels and quality standards? This can quickly get overwhelming for the “average Joe – consumer” like me. There are companies which are working on solutions to make it easier for us consumers to compare products and services by gaining transparency along the value chain in combination with standardized ratings. For instance, Berlin-based startup Earth Ratings wants to help consumers when shopping online by rating products and brands in the four dimensions “environment”, “social”, “quality” and “innovation”. Carsten Roland, one of Earth Rating’s founders, states: “I founded Earth Ratings because I believe consumers need to know how their daily lives affect the planet and its ecosystems.”

Many people understand that on a very personal we have to change our consumption behaviour. This includes much talked about topics like eating less meat, travelling less, buying less in general and repairing and reusing items among many other things.
So how does the Western world actually consume today? Prof. Dr. Hendrik Müller, professor for business ethics at the University of Applied Sciences Fresenius in Berlin, states in a recent interview with the magazine adhibeo: “Statistics show that only 5 to 10 percent of the German population consumes in a sustainable and conscious manner.” He reasons this sad fact with a mind-behaviour-gap which is rooted in habits, the decoupling of global issues from the personal sphere, the sense of powerlessness to change the world at large and the reluctance to give up personal convenience whilst realizing the need for different choices for the greater good. On a positive note, the number of responsible consumers has been continuously growing over the past couple of years. The demographic breakdown shows that these are mainly people with a higher education and a high disposable income. Often, people with lower incomes can often simply not afford the more expensive sustainable options. This is sad, but true. Also in this aspect we see the divide grow in our society.

We need systems change! In a culture of more where consumerism is the key driver of the economy it is not surprising that a conditioning has been taking place over the past decades and centuries to fill inner emptiness with the immediate gratification from the things that we buy. And because the refractory period of this material joy is very short we consume ever more. As a Western society we have been drastically increasing the speed of this hedonistic treadmill. The result is overconsumption and in effect overproduction. In order to produce all the stuff, we deplete our natural resources and exploit mother Earth. In 2019, the global Earth Overshoot Day was on 29 July. From 30 July we started to consume more resources than the planet can regenerate in a year. There is broad consensus today that political regulation and a rapid shift to a circular economy are needed to turn this degenerative trend around. Some first companies are getting on the bandwagon. This year there were two great examples from Sweden. In September 2019, fashion brand Asket broadsided consumers and the general public by communicating “Fuck Fast Fashion” on a 110 square meter outdoor banner in Stockholms inner city to raise awareness regarding the toxic effects this industry causes. And on Black Friday, the high holiday of consumerism, outdoor brand Haglöfs has declared Black Friday to be Green Friday. Following the slogan “Get one for two” the brand doubled all the retail prices and then donated all of the Green Friday sales to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation.

All of us have a huge power – the power of choice and intentionality. The consciousness of this fact sets us free. You may think about nicely wrapping used objects which are still in mint condition and bring joy to someone. Or you may plan to give something which does not represent a material item at all. Regardless of what we gift others with, the most important aspect is that the giving comes from the heart. As for me personally, I prefer to give my time and joint experiences to my dear ones.
And now I am very curious to hear what your gift giving plans are for the holiday season 2020 …

In this sense, happy holidays!

#giftofgiving #joy #intentionality #consciousconsumption #circulareconomy #happyholidays