Skip the Christmas stress, America, your loved ones really just want you

FILE -- Nov. 25, 2011: Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy in North Dartmouth, Mass.

FILE -- Nov. 25, 2011: Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy in North Dartmouth, Mass.  (2011 AP)

This time of year can be stressful. If you’re anything like me, right about now you’re starting to worry as you look down your Christmas shopping list and see how many things you still have to buy. Or, even worse, maybe you’re still racking your brain for an idea of what to give some of the special people in your life.

But there’s good news. My organization, Consumers’ Research, recently did a survey of Americans that suggests there’s no need to panic about last-minute Christmas shopping. It turns out that Americans love this holiday season-- not for anything we might find under a tree, but for the people we’ll find around it.

The survey, conducted by professional research firm GfK, asked over 1,000 respondents from around the country three questions. The first question asked respondents to rate specific holiday activities on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest priority of importance.

Nearly sixty percent of those surveyed gave “spending time with loved ones” the highest priority of importance. That’s a six point increase from last year. The runners-up lagged far behind: “Sticking to your budget” (28%), “enjoying great meals” (25%) and “enhancing spiritual life” (24%). What’s more, over 81% of respondents rated time with loved ones 8 or higher.

What activity was the least popular? It wasn’t even close: a mere 5% of respondents gave gift receiving the highest priority, and only 14% rated it an 8 or above.

These results are consistent with the second question, which asked respondents how desirable they found a series of holiday gifts on a scale of 1-10. Again, there was a clear favorite: 58 percent of respondents rated “quality time with loved ones” a 10 out of 10. Surprisingly, store-bought gifts shared the basement with charitable donations made in one’s name, with just over 12 percent of respondents rating it a 10.

This might come as a relief to everyone stressing out about finding the perfect gift. It turns out that what we most want is time with the people we love.

How to stay calm over the holidays


Perhaps these findings are a surprise because of the avalanche of advertisements we face this time of year, which convince us that everyone wants stuff. Holiday displays go up right after Halloween. There are big sales on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and days without clever names. So we’re accustomed to thinking that the season is for shopping.

But these findings may also be surprising simply because we don’t communicate with the people we’re spending time with around the holidays. We might ask leading questions to find out what music they like or what brand of clothes they prefer, but even then we’re assuming that they want things. If we were more open with them, we might learn that they don’t really want a new neck pillow or fondue machine. Maybe we’d realize they don’t want to exchange gifts at all, but to split the cost of a big dinner together.

Let me conclude with some other good news, which is that Americans are excited and optimistic about the holidays. We asked how merry the respondents expected this season to be, with 1 being not merry at all and 10 being the merriest it could possibly be. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they expected it to be as merry as possible, with only 3.4 expecting it to be not merry at all. And most people—nearly 61 percent—gave their expectations an 8 or above.

So what can you do to make sure Christmas is as merry as possible for the people you love? A good start would be spending less time shopping for them and more time being with them. If you want to bring along a wrapped present and some home-made cookies, that’s just tinsel on the tree.

Joe Colangelo is Executive Director of Consumers’ Research, an independent educational organization based in Washington, DC.