Dr. Joti Samra, R. Psych., first picked up Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book, The Power of Intention, 15 years ago, shortly after her father died suddenly at the age of 53. She has since considered Dyer one of the great influences in her life. The irony of meeting him, completely by chance – not once, but twice – isn’t lost on her. “I told him I knew I’d meet him (this was on a boardwalk in Hawaii) and he said of course you did!” That, she says, was a great example of the true power of intention.
This philosophy, which Joti strives to apply in all areas of her life, is based on a heightened level of consciousness that you attract what you are, rather than what you want.
“Because of this, over the years, I’ve become increasingly, hyper-aware of the impacts of over-consumption – the idea that we always need more in order to be happy,” she says.
As a psychologist, Joti sees the problematic side of consumption, whether it’s food, substances, sex, gambling or shopping. “It’s so detrimental to health. There’s often a strong self-medication component. People have emotional distress and there’s this soothing we get from ‘things’,” she says. “We get short hits of natural antidepressants – Serotonin in our brain – which gets reinforced over time. Basically, it feels good so people keep doing it, whether it’s actually good for them.”
Christmas and the Holiday Season provide the ideal opportunity for this repetitive pattern of over-consumption in many cultures. “It’s right around this time every year, when I see clients becoming increasingly stressed in two key areas: family and finances.”
She says it’s sad that a time of year that’s supposed to be about togetherness and giving and sharing is so stressful for so many people.
“As a society, we do a poor job of education about the behaviors that are causing this stress, thinking more is better and it’s not.” She cites the fact that fully 1/3 of Canadians are chronically stressed about finances. “People are getting into debt way over their heads with no clear idea how they’re ever going to dig themselves out.”
How do we change these behaviours?
Joti identifies this as a societal problem with numerous influences. We see it in the fact that both brick and mortar and online stores are blasting away with specials and the need to start shopping for the Holidays earlier and earlier. It’s fed again by a generation that have always had technology in their lives, which is causing a dramatic change in the nature of their relationships as they over-consume vast amounts of information and influences online. It’s bolstered, yet again, by busy working families who use technology to solve problems, because it’s easier.
“We have this perception that we’re doing the ‘right thing’ by jumping online and getting all of our shopping done,” Joti says. While it may provide a temporary sense of relief, in the end, we’ve likely spent more and have given less thought to the things we’re buying, who we’re buying them for – or even why we’re buying them in the first place.
She says this barrage of influences assaults our senses, causing emotional clutter. “A lot of people don’t have awareness of the patterns they are getting into when it comes to consumption,” Joti says.
“Ultimately it comes down to just being more mindful of the decisions we’re making, and why we’re making them.”
Thinking about why we do what we do around the Holidays
There are ways to reduce both the over-consumption and emotional clutter in a way that can have lasting, positive effects:
Be aware of your thoughts, expectations and emotional associations around buying, giving, and receiving. Ask yourself questions like, when you think about Christmas, what emotions does that raise for you in terms of what you buy? What is the why for doing what you do?
Commit to thinking about it. Every time you’re going to make a purchase, take a moment to again, consider the why. Does it have beauty or function? Both are good. Beautiful things like art, flowers, or things we make with our own hands are good for us in terms of the positive emotions they inspire. If something has function, it serves some useful role. “It may not be beautiful, but we need it in our lives,” Joti says.
Focus cognitive attention on finances. Extend that awareness to what you can really afford for no other reason than to reduce financial stress. It is you alone that has the choice to buy or not to buy.
Get others on board. Rather than seeing this as a negative (worrying that you’ll be seen as cheap, uncaring or too busy), understand that the vast majority of people don’t want – or need – more “stuff”. Even the pre-teen who wants more video games can be brought onside with fewer, more thoughtful gifts, rather than the endless pile they tear through on Christmas morning. Couple that with some memorable experiences (see below) and you can begin to change the course of the Holiday gift giving frenzy.
Talk about it. As a society, we’re not well-versed to talk about money. Be the one to bring it up and again, talk about the why. Discuss memories or rituals that are meaningful to family members and how you can recreate or bring those “gifts” into the Holidays. Some ideas include creating photo journals to share, asking every family member to write a letter of gratitude to other family members, and creating rituals around the food or other traditions (maybe it’s skating, carolling, church, etc.) your family traditionally shares during the Holidays. Overall, just take to time pause and celebrate those non-monetary affirmations.
Be prepared for resistance. Joti advises to giving this approach a try for at least one year. Set some ground rules as noted above, but let the family know that you’re open to talking about how it felt for everyone. The goal is for it to be good for everyone, to reduce the financial and emotional stress, and to focus on truly celebrating what’s important to one another.
“This can be very intrinsically rewarding,” Joti says. “We all know that feeling of how we can ‘breathe’ when we reduce unnecessary clutter in our lives – Be this clearing out our desk, a closet, a room, or the emotional clutter that the Holidays can create.”
This more minimalist approach enhances our ability to be mindful. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing our energy and attention on the here and now.
Joti says, “Mindfulness is known to have tremendous benefits – reducing anxiety and depression, and enhancing quality of life, relationships, and productivity.
“When we reduce clutter in our lives, we’re much more likely to be able to live a mindful life.”
Challenge: What’s the best Holiday Season memory you have? Is it about a present?
My guess is, it’s likely about the people you were with, or a place in time. Let’s wrap that up for the Holiday Season!
Dr. Joti Samra is a national thought leader on issues relating to mental health. She is Founder & Principal at MyWorkplaceHealth.com. She is also the Program Lead for the online Centre for Psychological Health Sciences at the University of Fredericton and a member of the Global Expert Panel for WellteQ. She is an innovator in the area of psychological health and safety in the workplace, and has been the lead on a number of pivotal national workplace projects that have contributed to policy change in Canada. Joti was also the host and psychological expert on both seasons of the Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Million Dollar Neighbourhood”, working with families on the psychology of making changes in terms of their financial health. You can follow her on Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.