materialism and the holidays

Yoga, Materialism, and the Holidays

Materialism and the holidays get closely linked. As we get caught up in the season, we often get caught up in excess: too much food, too many gifts, too much money spent. We might start to feel guilty about having so much while others have little, or maybe guilty that we can’t provide more for our own families and friends. Sometimes, we feel a nudge to reject it altogether: to stop buying, stop consuming, stop being so darn materialistic.

I think there’s a balance to be found here.

In yoga, we have the concepts of non-attachment and aparigraha (non-greed, non-grasping). At first glance, it might seem that these things encourage us to let go of all worldly things and live as simply as possible. It might sound like we shouldn’t buy gifts at all if we’re truly practicing these concepts.

If that makes you happy, then sure. But there’s another way to look at this.

Non-attachment is not the same as “non-having” or “non-enjoying.” I just made a list of fitness-related gift ideas, and I love everything on it! Objects, like the new clothes or toys we might get at Christmas, are not the problem.  Attachment to these objects is the problem.

Attachment is what causes pain. Attachment is when we are filled with regret and sadness when something we love goes away. Attachment means we can’t move on, or that we live in fear of losing.

We can love and enjoy without growing attached. That goes for people, places, shoes, new yoga mats, and fine wine. (Or $4 Trader Joe’s wine.)

I think we can enjoy the world and its people and the many things we’ve managed to create and still practice non-attachment and non-greed, even during the holidays. Even though I’m somewhat minimalist (not so much for righteousness as for practicality), the holiday chaos doesn’t bother me much; really, I love the season. If you start feeling overwhelmed by consumerism, which certainly can turn ugly, take a deep breath. This is how I look at it:

  • Every object is someone’s creation. It represents someone’s effort and creativity. Using it as it was meant to be used supports that person’s vision (and finances).
  • Let people celebrate the way they want. That includes 3am Black Friday shopping; maybe it’s part of someone’s family tradition. (One year in college, my dearest friend and I went Black Friday shopping. I didn’t even buy anything, but we had the most ridiculous, best time.) Instead of getting disgusted about seeing Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, just enjoy what you enjoy about the holidays and let the rest go.
  • I have to wear clothes to teach yoga, so it’s okay to choose clothes I like. I feel good wearing them, and they serve their purpose. You can find great leggings for $20–you don’t have to spend $100 per pair unless you want to. Maybe there’s an awesome, eco-friendly and socially responsible company that makes it worth $100 per pair.
  • We don’t have to spend a lot. Last year, I gave my brother and sister-in-law a month-long meal plan for their family of three boys. It took me quite a bit of time, but it only cost me a couple of dollars for a binder. I’ve put together photo albums and other nostalgic-type gifts for people, and they’ve been my favorites.
  • When we give, we do so with the other people in mind. (Or we should.) We’re hoping our gift is a bright spot in their day, that it makes their life better in some way. Giving is a joy. Receiving is a joy. If it’s not joyful, we don’t have to do it. If shopping for a certain person starts to stress me out, I cross them off my list. (This has happened to my family members.)
  • Shop with your friends. It seems like most people nowadays have a little side business, be it network marketing, Etsy, or whatever. These products are unique and generally high-quality, so you can get what you need/want and you help support your friends; it’s like giving two gifts at once.
  • Don’t let your giving stop. We get focused on donations and helping out around Christmastime, and I love knowing that a family can enjoy a Christmas dinner because of someone else’s kindness, but this isn’t the only time of year people need help. We can give all year long.
  • We create our own traditions. We can choose to involve shopping and giving and eating as much or as little as we want.
  • Non-attachment is a practice, and it comes down to something very yoga-like in the first place: staying present. When something (or someone) we love is gone, we can mourn, we can acknowledge the loss, but by staying present we prevent ourselves from getting attached to what was. (I am not an expert, but I do know from my own experience that it’s incredibly liberating.)

How do you feel for the difference between outright materialism and simple enjoyment of the material goods you have? Is this more challenging during the holidays?

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