A President's Reflections

Christmas 2009

Posted on December 27, 2009

The busy holiday calendar has kept me from posting, but the lovely calm of a rainy Sunday morning with our kids home and still asleep is an invitation to write.

Christmas 2008 was a lost holiday for me.  I has pneumonia this time last year and was sicker than I had ever been in my life, spending Christmas on the couch with a blanket pulled up to my chin and feeling depressed.  In contrast, Christmas 2009 has been a delight, though last year admittedly set a pretty low bar for success.  We have seen scores of friends and family, enjoyed far too many desserts, and delighted in our gift giving.

On that last point, I earlier this year read an article about the old axiom, “Money can’t buy you happiness.”  Turns out the truth is a little more complicated.  Researchers have confirmed that buying things brings limited happiness, because things degrade both in terms of the quality of newness and in their condition.  However, experiences and knowledge work the other way.  If you buy experiences, they tend to get better with time.  For example, three years after a vacation to Italy, one tends to forget the missed flights, fender bender with the rental car, and mediocre meal and instead remembers the wonderful meals, the museums, and the charm of the place.  The experience gets better with age.  The researchers concluded that money spent on experiences and others actually does bring a lot of happiness.

So our family challenge this year was to buy fewer things (though I did make my annual plea for a Harley)  and buy experiences or knowledge.  So our girls bought Pat and me ballroom dancing lessons — there better be a remedial class that starts with “This is your left foot.  This is your right foot.”  Pat is a notoriously and self-admitted bad cook, so she received a beginner’s cooking class.  She bought me guitar lessons (one of my chief regrets in life is not mastering a musical instrument).  Other gifts included lots of books, NPR items like compilations from This American Life and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and tickets to an opera.  We spent a lot less money on things and everyone seemed more genuinely tickled by what they received. 

If all goes well, by this time next year I will serenade Pat on my guitar as she cooks dinner and then we’ll waltz around the living room.  And then we’ll go to CMC so she can have a cast put on her foot….

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