There is a lot of focus on material things at this time of the year. Wherever one turns, one is assaulted by advertising aimed at convincing us to buy things, whether we need them or not.
We think about buying gifts for others, but, based on the marketing that is out there, a lot of people are shopping for themselves, as well.
If, however, we stop and take a moment to remove ourselves from the pre-Christmas rat race, we might find it is not things that are important, but people.
I recently had the good fortune to be among those present for a dinner party. It was one of those magical nights filled with good food, good wine, good company, and an abundance of laughing and clever conversation.
It was one of those nights when it is 6 p.m. one minute, and then, in the blink of an eye, it is midnight.
The food on this occasion was delicious, prepared with care by someone who knows her way around a kitchen. The wine was big, bold, and delightful. But, as good as those things were, the real treat of the evening was the people.
That may seem a radical statement for a curmudgeon about whom the description “antisocial” falls far short of adequate. The truth, however, is that I can tolerate and even enjoy people individually or in small groups. It is when they gather in such numbers as to become a mob that I am repulsed by them.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this was a memorable evening. It was memorable not because of any one big thing, but because of many small things combining to create something special.
There were opportunities throughout the evening to learn something about each of the guests, and there is beauty in that. Learning about others their likes and dislikes; their aspirations and experiences can be fascinating, and can teach us a lot about ourselves.
It was the kind of evening that leaves one with a warm glow of satisfaction that is more than the blush of good wine.
I reflected on this as I went about my chores at the bachelor pad the morning after the party.
What is it, I wondered, that makes an occasion memorable?
The example in question was a dinner party, so food was naturally a central element. Yet food is never quite as good when one is on one one’s own, or, worse yet, in bad company.
Likewise, although I have absolutely no qualms about drinking alone, and do so frequently, it must be said that even a very ordinary bottle of wine is enhanced when enjoyed in good company.
So perhaps it is true that, regardless of the situation, it is the people, and not the things that make it special.
If this is the case, it seems our priorities are upside down.
Many of us seem to spend much of our lives chasing material things.
We invest much of our time and energy in the pursuit of objects when what we should be doing is investing our time and energy in people.
I suspect if one were to ask people why they spend so much time working, they might say they are doing it for their families.
This might lead us to ask “What is the point?” if the result of all this work is that we never get to see our families.
Not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year, America is the land of capitalism, and whoever collects the most toys wins.
One can’t help but notice, though, that despite the non-stop quest for material wealth, a lot of people don’t seem to be as happy as they could be.
Maybe the people who are truly rich and happy are the ones who have invested in the people in their lives.
Spending time with our family and friends can be inexpensive, or even free.
Sharing a cup of coffee with a friend, taking a walk in the park, watching a movie, or playing a board game can be wonderful ways to get to know a person better and enjoy a pleasant conversation, and they cost practically nothing.
Yet, despite our best intentions, we often fail to make time to do those things.
We get caught up in the chaos of the daily grind, and forget to stop and enjoy life.
I confess this is a problem with which I have often struggled.
Clearly, it takes more than simply identifying the problem. It takes a commitment to changing our behavior.
I can’t help thinking, as I try to hide from the assault of advertising and avoid the hordes of holiday shoppers, that if we were to focus on people, rather than things, we would all be better off.