I bet when you first think of the phrase “spend less,” you immediately think of dollar signs. Sure, I could talk about the implications of Black Friday and materialism throughout the holiday season, but that is too obvious. I prefer to come at this phrase from a different angle.
The Christmas season always brings to mind several dominating and reoccurring motifs, such as delicious food, upbeat music, a beautiful tree, a warm fire in the hearth, and bright, twinkling lights. Sure, all of these things add to the magic of the season, but for me, and I would venture a guess that for many others, it is the opportunity to connect with others that really brings on the butterflies. It is in these connections that laughter is had, smiles are giving, and the warmest memories are made.
But it happens too often that things interfere in our interactions, throwing up the walls that make it impossible for genuine connections to be made. “Spend less” can help us break down those walls this Advent season, and living out that phrase can show others the values that you hold most dear. Upon reflection, I have decided to make an effort to “spend less” in the company of others this year in the following ways.
I will try to spend less time asleep. And by asleep, I don’t mean eyes closed with dreams of sugar plums and candy canes. I mean being in the same room with all of the people that I love most while mentally, I am on another planet. This season, I will be present to those around me. I will look a person in the eye as I am talking with her, and I will truly listen to what she says. In this way I recognize the humanity of each person I talk to, which deepens and strengthens these relationships. Nothing compares to the magic of feeling connected to another by being fully present to that person, and those connections can return us to peace and joy, two pillars of the Advent season.
Along with being present, I will try to spend less time ensnared by technology. Nothing says “checked out” louder than social networking on your phone or laptop while someone is trying to tell you about his or her day. I want to be completely open to interaction with others, so instead of holding my phone as an extension of my arm, I will detach from it and hold another person’s gaze instead. There are certain loved ones that I see only a couple of times a year, and I can’t enjoy the time that I have with them if I am scrolling through my newsfeed. Even by putting away my phone and having a conversation with someone in line at the grocery store could make someone’s day a little brighter. Messages and updates can wait.
I will try to spend less energy rushing and worrying. We live such busy lives and take on so many commitments that it is easy to feel anxious and overwhelmed when we think about our laundry list of things we need to get done. Personally, this anxiety gets in the way of the sporadic interactions I could have with people throughout my day. I have found that when I slow down and take the time to experience those interactions, I feel happier and lighter. A smile and short conversation with a friend can take a lot of weight off of my shoulders and helps to sustain me on my toughest days. By worrying less, I am more helpful to those around me, rather than having tunnel vision on myself and all my tasks. This Advent, I do not want to miss the hurt in a friend’s eyes or the warmth of a family member’s smile. Letting go of all of the stress and worry and remembering what is really important can help us brighten others lives as well as our own.
Google told me that the opposite of the infinitive “to spend” is “to save.” So this Advent, save that time and energy that you would normally be spending “asleep,” on Facebook, or worrying. Save it to slow down and live each moment of every day as a fully engaged and aware person; you might be surprised at the life happening around you that you would usually miss. If you practice it enough, it might become habit. There’s no reason for this to only apply to the Advent season; maybe the rest of the year could use a little brightening up, too.
Molly Sterling is a senior Environmental Science major with a Psychology minor from Toledo, Ohio. This past summer, Molly was one of the 20 Summer Service Interns, and through this experience she managed nature camps at Imago Earth Center in Price Hill, dabbled in the practice of Voluntary Simplicity, and lived in the pit of Brockman with her 10 fellow interns (which she loved).