Christmas is almost upon us. The cheesy carols are playing in the shopping centres and the decorations are out.

Christmas doesn’t have much meaning for me. My family is far away and I have never really been religious.

I enjoy the days off and the chance to relax. My partner Nick and I sometimes exchange gifts, however, we really don’t do much in the way of getting into the spirit.

I recently saw a post on Facebook I liked and thought you may find helpful as well.

“As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Australians with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods — merchandise that has been produced at the expense of Australian labour. And also produced in slave-like conditions for the poor people working there.

“There is no longer an excuse that, at gift-giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by Australian hands. Yes there is!

“It’s time to think outside the box, people. Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, wrapped in cheap foreign-produced wrapping paper?

“Everyone — yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local hair salon or barber?

“Gym membership? It’s appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement.

“How many people couldn’t use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the Australian working guy?

“What about a gift certificate from a local home handyman for some chores to be done around?

“When we care about other Australians we care about our communities and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn’t imagine.”

While I found the patriotic drive of this article a little on the heavy side, I am a big believer in moving away from buying crap “because we have to get something”.

I am reading a book called 59 Seconds, Think A Little, Change A Lot. This book explores thought experiments you can undertake that help increase happiness, joy and feelings of wellbeing.

They discuss the question, does buying “stuff” increase happiness? The data is very interesting.

Buying nice objects like iPads, diamonds and other goods increases happy feelings but only for a brief period. What they have found is that buying “experiences” gives good feelings for much longer periods of time.

I am sure you all have happy memories of a holiday, a great concert or even a lovely picnic with someone you care about hidden away in the back of your mind.

The research shows that it’s these experiences that last long in our memories, much longer than our quickly outdated toys.Research also shows that it is the giving of a gift that increases happiness more than the receiving. It’s the process of going out, choosing and then seeing the joy of the person you care about.

Each year I go to one of the bigger department stores in Melbourne with $100 in my hand. This particular store has a Christmas tree out the front with hundreds of tags hanging off it with children’s names and their ages. I grab three of four of these tags and then go shopping for these kids I have never met.

If you have never done this, I highly recommend it. I had totally forgotten the joy of toy shopping, carefully thinking out would a kid of this age appreciate a gift like this or that. Shopping done, the gifts are dropped back at the tree where volunteers wrap and tag them to be distributed to children whose parents are experiencing hardship and not able to do this sort of spending.

It’s a wonderful feeling to imagine the children’s faces Christmas morning and for me a great feeling that I may have made a potentially sad day happy.
Christmas does not have to be about spending, it’s really about the thought. Which would you rather, a beautiful handmade gift made with love or a piece of junk chosen quickly in a flurry of last-minute shopping? Perhaps a donation to a wonderful charity that makes a difference, like Camp Quality?
I know which I would prefer.

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