As Thanksgiving approaches, most Americans plan to gather with family and friends. For many of us, the upcoming holidays are a wonderful and highly anticipated time to connect with loved ones, express our gratitude for the abundance in our lives and indulge in excess — both in what we eat and drink, and in what we buy.
Collectively, Americans will spend $616 billion dollars on often unnecessary and sometimes even unwanted "stuff" for family and friends. In fact, research shows that 70 percent of Americans would welcome less emphasis on gift-giving and spending.
In that respect, the holidays are both the best of times (in terms of social gatherings) and the worst of times (in terms of overconsumption).
Here are some examples of holiday spending:
> Just this year, U.S. shoppers spent $350 million on Halloween costumes for their pets.
> Americans just spent $7 billion on Halloween — more than the entire world spends each year on malaria prevention and treatment programs. More than 1,400 children die from malaria each day.
> The amount of money spent on candy alone during the holiday season is greater than the combined annual budgets of the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and Habitat for Humanity.
> Each year, Americans spend more than $2.5 billion on wrapping paper, consuming tens of millions of trees and generating millions of tons of trash.
At the same time:
> More than one in four working families in Colorado do not have enough food to meet basic needs.
> Nearly one in seven Colorado seniors is sometimes unsure of getting a meal.
> In the U.S., 40 percent of food is wasted — the equivalent of $165 billion each year. Reducing this number by just 15 percent would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans — and would dramatically reduce landfill methane emissions.
> In developing countries, a child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5.
The "more of everything" tag-line of a national chain store epitomizes a society driven by consumerism and the accumulation of more "stuff."
Lynne Twist, author of "The Soul of Money," sums it up this way:
"I believe we live in a condition called 'scarcity' that is an unconscious, unexamined system of beliefs that has three toxic myths: the first, there's not enough; the second, more is better; and the third, that's just the way it is. When you clear away the myth of scarcity and the chase for more of everything all the time, what's there, waiting for us, is the radical, surprising truth of sufficiency. There's enough of everything, everywhere, for everyone to have a healthy and productive life."
There are thoughtful alternatives to holiday overconsumption.
What if, instead of walking away from the Thanksgiving table this year uncomfortably stuffed, we consciously cooked, ate and wasted less — and donated the difference to charity?
What if, instead of buying all those often unneeded and unwanted gifts in December, we devoted a portion of those resources to those who have little?
What if, at the Thanksgiving table, families intentionally discussed giving less to one another — jointly selecting one charity to which family members could donate?
What if the nation spent only $1 billion on wrapping paper this year — freeing up $1.5 billion to help feed our neighbors or educate moms in developing countries?
In Haiti, they say: "If you get a piece of cake and eat the whole thing, you will feel empty. If you get a piece of cake and share half of it, you will feel both full and fulfilled."
This year, let us plan to give fewer material things to family and friends and contribute more to those who really need a helping hand — locally, nationally and around the world.
Let's put the "giving" back into Thanksgiving.
Bruce DeBoskey, J.D., is a Colorado-based philanthropic strategist working with The DeBoskey Group to help businesses, foundations and families design and implement thoughtful philanthropic strategies and actionable plans. He is a Teaching Fellow with Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship and frequent speaker at conferences and workshops on philanthropy. More information at deboskeygroup.com.