“Love people, use things. The opposite never works.”
– Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus
Growing up the holidays were about getting presents. They were about asking for everything you’ve ever wanted, and waiting for the moment where you could rip off that wrapping paper and get at all of those gifts. I would create these monstrous lists filled with literally everything I could have ever wanted in life – and I do mean literally everything. It was fun looking through magazines, going on websites, and just filling the list with anything. However, as the years went by I went through this weird transformation, from asking for everything and expecting everything to asking for everything and being fulfilled by nothing.
For several years I asked for things just to fill my list, but on Christmas day when I had gotten everything I’d asked for I was excited about nothing. My parents thought I was ungrateful and spoiled, but I really wasn’t. I’ve always been thankful for everything I’ve ever gotten, and thank God every day for everything I’ve been allowed in my life. I am beyond fortunate, and that’s the real truth. But over time I began to realize that commercials were advertising this happiness they couldn’t guarantee. Society was telling me to get more, get more, get more and you’ll be happy, but it just wasn’t true. Every week was a new promise from some new company of how their product was going to put a smile on my face and joy in my heart. However, when it came time to unwrap my gifts and get the joy and happiness I was promised – big business fell short.
It took a couple of years of unhappy holidays where I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t content. While waiting for the rest of my family to get to my house for the festivities, I would just cry. I was just so unhappy, and I just knew, based on everything the world had taught me thus far that I was supposed to be happy. This rut finally hit rock bottom when one holiday season I decided to follow my fashion designer dreams. Yes, you laugh, and so do I – don’t worry! I taught myself to sew and even sewed a dress by hand, zipper and all. For Christmas I asked for a sewing machine and a dress form. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted, but I knew I was supposed to ask for something, so there they were. It wasn’t even two full weeks after I had received them that I realized I’d made a big mistake. I’d wasted so much money, and nothing I’d received had made me any happier. I love sewing and making clothing, but I also don’t have the time. I would love to fit my handmade clothing properly on a form, but I also know my particular petite size does not come in a standard dress form. Yet another waste of money. I had just asked for things because that’s what society told me to do. At this point, I’d even go as far as to say that’s what I thought the holiday season was about – Jesus and gifts.
It wasn’t until afterwards – sitting in my room with a whole bunch of material and string and needles and this useless dress form that I saw it. What made me happy on Christmas was being with my family. What gave me real joy was giving and not receiving. I don’t find true joy in materialistic things, but I do love to see the happiness on people’s faces when I give them gifts. My mother, the sweetheart that she is, continuously asks me what I want for Christmas every year, and every year I tell her “Nothing really,” because to me I already have it all. I no longer see a need to ask for something unless I don’t think I can live without it, or it is something that I really truly love. There are no more long lists full of everything I could have ever imagined. I now create short lists of things I really love or absolutely need, if I create a list at all.
I don’t think it’s something you’re just born knowing though, because everything around us tells us differently. Everything around us tells us the happiest people have everything and the saddest people have nothing. Commercials tell us we’ll be happy if we buy their products, and the kids at school smile in our faces when they tell us they received it. We want to fit in, so we believe what society tells us, make our lists, ask for things we don’t need, and go through the motions. I don’t think it’s until we come to truly love ourselves and are confident in ourselves that we realize none of this other stuff is going to help. If we’re sad, a new Givenchy will not make our pain go away. If I’m angry, new Jimmy Choo’s will not calm me down. It’s when we realize that we hold the key to our happiness, and that it lays nowhere but within that we truly begun to understand.
To me, this is what the holiday season is about, not only loving others, but truly learning to love ourselves. This Christmas I challenge you to ask for things you really need or one or two things you absolutely love, and nothing else. Be present during this day. Pay attention to every joke told and hug given. Listen when your family tells their stories, and help when the kitchen maestro’s need a hand. Take a moment and look around. Notice everything beautiful about that day; from the way your mom seems to jump into warp speed, to the way your grandma seems to notice every time you attempt to go outside without a coat. Take mental pictures in your mind of the emotions on people’s faces as they laugh, the way the tree lights up the room, or how your cousin’s face becomes an excited emoji when she gets exactly what she asked for. These moments are the real gifts of Christmas, and they’re all free.