This morning my street is lined with wheelie bins as the first post-Christmas rubbish and recycling collection is due.
I wonder how much of the contents will be wrapping paper.
Apparently, a recent survey found that half of us in Britain would be happy to receive presents unwrapped in order to cut down on waste.
This is about saving on paper, recycling and saving the planet – and for many of us, now, this extends to doing away with physical Christmas cards, too.
Of course, it’s too late to change what we did for Christmas this year, but a good time to think about what we might want to do differently in 2018.
And how much of the wrapping that was used, or the cards that were sent, were recyclable? Metallic paper, ribbon and bows and glitter-covered cards often aren’t – although if you keep the ribbons and bows from presents received and re-use them for presents you give, then that helps.
And the plastic cups and straws used for parties most certainly aren’t.
There’s a wider movement gathering force, we’re starting to think more about packaging in general. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II programme highlighted the damage plastic is doing to our oceans and the life within them.
So maybe we can think about what we’re doing for New Year celebrations this year? And for next year’s parties to celebrate birthdays, retirements, anniversaries and so on?
Coming back to wrapping presents, and being more mindful in general of what we’re doing – and why – it’s worth thinking about the psychology behind this and the latest research by two professors at the Yale School of Management and one at the University of Miami.
When we wrap gifts we might think we’re enhancing the experience, transforming something ordinary into something beautiful but the studies argue that the opposite is true – that those who unwrap them experience the complete opposite, and are often disappointed.
So maybe we need to be honest with ourselves – are we trying to make our present more attractive than it is? If so, what does that say about us? About the recipient? About the gift we’ve chosen?
So our efforts in wrapping may, actually, be counter-productive – creating unrealistic expectations leading to disappointment.
But, I hear you say, there’s something magical about the pile of presents under the tree at Christmas, the wrapping helps keep the contents a secret until the last moment and, especially for children, makes the process last longer – a few seconds each time, anyway!
I know that for my parents and grandparents (and generations before them) wrapping used to be a simpler, more modest affair – especially in times of austerity or wartime rationing – and they used plain paper or even newspaper. This might have managed expectations of the content more effectively.
Certainly, the message from the recent research seems to be that, to avoid disappointment, the wrapping needs to be consistent with the contents.
What if the whole family agreed next year, for example, to use magazine pages as wrapping paper and to decorate them with pine cones or holly leaves?
This also makes me think about how we present things in general and the effect of the ‘container’.
For example, if we go to a restaurant and are presented with coffee and chocolates on a fancy plate, do we enjoy it all the more because we’re ‘eating with our eyes’ as well as our mouths?
And the trend these days for ‘fancy’ coffee, where the barista decorates the top of a latte or cappuccino…
Does it taste better when we can see this than when we drink through the lid of a takeaway cup? (which, by the way, is probably not recyclable...)
Despite our best efforts, we do tend to judge by appearances – ‘judging the book by its cover’.
And this reminds me of a story that can be found in various forms – I know it as ‘The Hot Chocolate Story’:
A group of graduates, well established in their careers, were talking at a reunion and decided to visit their old university professor, now retired. During their visit, the conversation turned to complaints about stress in their work and lives.
Offering his guests hot chocolate, the professor went into the kitchen and returned with a large pot of hot chocolate and an assortment of cups – porcelain, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the hot chocolate.
When they all had a cup of hot chocolate in hand, the professor said:
“Notice that all the nice looking, expensive cups were taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.
The cup that you’re drinking from adds nothing to the quality of the hot chocolate. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was hot chocolate, not the cup; but you consciously went for the best cups… And then you began eyeing each other’s cups.
Now consider this:
Life is the hot chocolate.
Your job, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life.
The cup you have does not define nor change the quality of life you have. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the hot chocolate we have.
The happiest people don’t have the best of everything – they just make the best of everything they have.
Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.
Be thankful for your blessings.
And enjoy your hot chocolate…”