Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Can’t keep your New Year’s resolutions? Try being kind to yourself

  Many of us will start out the New Year by making a list of resolutions – changes we want to make to be happier such as eating better, volunteering more often, being a more attentive spouse, and so on. But, as we know, we will often fail. After a few failures, we will typically give up and go back to our old habits.

  Why is it so hard to stick to resolutions that require us to make effective or lasting changes?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Coercion and charity are opposites

  The entire welfare-state way of life is based on the concept of force. Through the threat of arrest, prosecution, incarceration, and fines, the American people are forced to be good, caring, and compassionate to others.

  Here is how the process works. People are forced to deliver a percentage of their income to the federal government, which in turn delivers the money to others. It’s not a 100 percent turnover, of course, because some of the money is used to cover the expenses associated with performing this service, such as salaries for bureaucrats in the IRS and in the federal departments, and agencies that distribute the money.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Could the Hyde Amendment be repealed in 2020?

  In 1976, conservative Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois introduced a bill that would ban the use of federal funding for abortion expenses except in instances of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.

  Today, the Hyde Amendment, which has been added as a rider to federal budget appropriation bills since 1977, prohibits abortion coverage for approximately 74 million Medicaid recipients.

  It also prohibits the federal government from covering abortion in health programs for federal employees, federal prisoners, those who rely on Indian Health Services, active military members, and veterans, among others.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Health care workers wanted: A veteran needs you to work at a VA hospital

  Flying home from Florida recently, I was seated across the aisle from an elderly man wearing a hat identifying himself as a Marine. His wife sat next to him and helped him store his cane in the overhead bin.

  I noticed that at least five of the boarding passengers thanked him for his service when they walked past him in the bulkhead row. Most were women who appeared middle-aged and all appeared sincere. One passenger shook his hand while asking him when he served; his wife answered for him saying: “He doesn’t hear so good anymore … he served in Korea.” He and his wife held hands during the take-off and landing.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Are you examining your life?

  Today, Socrates is thought of as one of the world’s great philosophers, but to the leaders of Greece, he was annoying and dangerous.

  Claiming that “the un-examined life is not worth living,” he roamed the public places of Athens asking questions that challenged assumptions and beliefs and demanded that people think about social justice and personal worthiness. In the end, he was sentenced to death for his subversive ideas. He refused an opportunity to escape since it would have violated his principles.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What Kwanzaa means for black Americans

  Today millions throughout the world’s African community will start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations, and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa ceremonies, there is also African drumming and dancing.

  It is a time of communal self-affirmation – when famous black heroes and heroines, as well as late family members – are celebrated.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Why there’s no place like home for the holidays

  While Christmas playlists often include cheesy favorites like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, there are also a handful of wistful tracks that go a little bit deeper.

  Listen closely to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “White Christmas”, and you’ll hear a deep yearning for home and sorrow at having to spend the holidays somewhere else.

  Strip away the cursory Christmas rituals – the TV specials, the lights, the gifts, the music – and what remains is home. It is the beating heart of the holiday, and its importance reflects our primal need to have a meaningful relationship with a setting – a place that transcends the boundary between the self and the physical world.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Why we love holiday rituals and traditions

  The mere thought of holiday traditions brings smiles to most people’s faces and elicits feelings of sweet anticipation and nostalgia. We can almost smell those candles, taste those special meals, hear those familiar songs in our minds.

  Ritual marks some of the most important moments in our lives, from personal milestones like birthdays and weddings to seasonal celebrations like Thanksgiving and religious holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah. And the more important the moment, the fancier the ritual.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Do you know when to back off?

  I’ve talked before about the ethical obligation to treat others with respect by attentive listening. Today, I want to talk about the flip side of respect: the duty to back off and accept the fact that while others should listen to us, we can’t demand that they agree with us.

  Such unreasonable demands are especially prevalent when someone in authority (boss or parent) lectures, criticizes, sermonizes, or berates an employee or child well past the point of legitimate communication. But it isn’t just people of authority who seek to impose their ideas through bulldozer tactics.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

What Hanukkah’s portrayal in pop culture means to American Jews

  When I was growing up in suburban New York, Hanukkah was not grounded in religious observance. Having no clue that there are traditional Hebrew blessings that accompany the kindling of the Hanukkah candles, we invented our own wishes, awkwardly voiced out loud, for happiness and peace.

  Then again, the festival of Hanukkah demands the performance of fewer religious rituals than most other Jewish observances. Even the most pious Jews do not take off from work during the eight-day festival. After all, the holiday is never mentioned in the Bible, since the events that it commemorates occurred hundreds of years after the Bible was written.

  Today, this minor festival of Hanukkah has become supersized into a Jewish version of Christmas – a time for family gatherings, gift-giving, and festivity. But it is through pop culture that Jews have found their own identity, in which they can take pride.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Limited eating times could be a new way to fight obesity and diabetes

  People with obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol are often advised to eat less and move more, but our new research suggests there is now another simple tool to fight off these diseases: restricting your eating time to a daily 10-hour window.

Friday, December 20, 2019

New studies show discrimination widely reported by women, people of color and LGBTQ adults

  In recent years, U.S. public opinion has been divided about the existence and seriousness of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.

  Amid growing racial divides in civil and political views, our research team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in partnership with NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, asked 3,453 adults about their experiences of discrimination.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

What makes Christmas movies so popular

  If you are one of those people who will settle in this evening with a hot cup of apple cider to watch a holiday movie, you are not alone. Holiday movies have become firmly embedded in Americans’ winter celebrations.

  The New York Times reports a massive increase in new holiday movies this year. Disney, Netflix, Lifetime, and Hallmark are now in direct competition for viewers’ attention, with both new releases and reruns of the classics.

  Holiday movies are so popular not simply because they are “escapes,” as my research on the relation between religion and cinema argues. Rather, these films offer viewers a glimpse into the world as it is could be.

Christmas movies as reflection
  This is particularly true with Christmas movies.

  In his 2016 book “Christmas as Religion,” the religious studies scholar Christopher Deacy states that Christmas movies act as a “barometer of how we might want to live and how we might see and measure ourselves.”

  These movies offer a variety of portraits of everyday life while affirming ethical values and social mores along the way.

  The 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” – about a man who longs to travel but remains stuck in his childhood town – represents visions of a community in which every citizen is a vital component.

  Another movie commonly replayed this time of year is 2005’s “The Family Stone” which portrays the clashes of a mostly average family but shows viewers that quarrels can be worked through and harmony is possible.

  The 2003 British holiday film “Love Actually,” which follows the lives of eight couples in London, brings to viewers the perennial theme of romance and the trials of relationships.

Movie watching as ritual practice

  As holiday movies bring viewers into a fictional world, people are able to work through their own fears and desires about self-worth and relationships. Such movies can provide solace, reaffirmation, and sometimes even courage to continue working through difficult situations. The movies offer hope in believing it all might turn out alright in the end.

  When people see some part of their own lives unfold on screen, the act of viewing operates in a fashion that’s strikingly similar to how a religious ritual works.

  As anthropologist Bobby Alexander explains, rituals are actions that transform people’s everyday lives. Rituals can open up “ordinary life to ultimate reality or some transcendent being or force,” he writes in the collection “Anthropology of Religion.”

  For example, for Jews and Christians, ritually observing the Sabbath day by sharing meals with family and not working connects them with the creation of the world. Prayer rituals in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions connect those praying with their God, as well as with their fellow believers.

  Holiday movies do something similar, except that the “transcendent force” they make viewers feel is not about God or another supreme being. Instead, this force is more secular: It’s the power of family, true love, the meaning of home, or the reconciliation of relationships.

Movies create an idealized world

  Take the case of the 1942 musical “Holiday Inn.” It was one of the first movies – after the silent era’s various versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – where the plot used Christmas as a backdrop, telling the story of a group of entertainers who have gathered at a country inn.

  In reality, it was a deeply secular film about romantic interests, couched in a desire to sing and dance. When it was released, the United States had been fully involved in World War II for a year and national spirits were not high.

  The movie hasn’t endured as a classic. But Bing Crosby’s song “White Christmas,” which appeared in it, quickly became etched in the holiday consciousness of many Americans, and a 1954 film called “White Christmas” became better known.

  As historian Penne Restad puts it in her 1995 book “Christmas in America,” Crosby’s crooning offers the “quintessential expression” of the holidays, a world which “has no dark side” – one in which “war is forgotten.”

  In subsequent Christmas movies, the main plots have not been set in the context of war, yet there is nonetheless often a battle: that of overcoming a materialistic, gift-buying, and gift-giving kind of holiday.

  Movies like “Jingle all the Way,” “Deck the Halls” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” center around the idea that the true meaning of Christmas is not in rampant consumerism but in goodwill and family love.

  Dr. Seuss’s famously grouchy Grinch thinks he can ruin Christmas by taking all the gifts away. But as the people gather together, giftless, they join hands and sing while the narrator tells viewers, “Christmas came anyway.”

“All’s right with the world”

  Though Christmas is a Christian holiday, most holiday films are not religious in the traditional sense. There is hardly ever a mention of Jesus or the biblical setting of his birth.

  As media studies scholar John Mundy writes in a 2008 essay, “Christmas and the Movies,” “Hollywood movies continue to construct Christmas as an alternative reality.”

  These movies create on-screen worlds that kindle positive emotions while offering a few laughs.

  “A Christmas Story,” from 1983, waxes nostalgic for childhood holidays when life seemed simpler and the desire for a Red Ryder air rifle was the most important thing in the world. The plot of 2003’s “Elf” centers on the quest to reunite with a lost father.

  In the end, as the narrator says late in “A Christmas Story” – after the family has overcome a serious of risible mishaps, the presents have been unwrapped and they’ve gathered for Christmas goose – these are times when “all’s right with the world.”

  About the author: S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Cinema and Media Studies, by special appointment, at Hamilton College.

  This article was published by The Conversation.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Pete Turnham epitomized the Greatest Generation

  Tom Brokaw wrote an iconic book entitled, "The Greatest Generation".  The 1998 book chronicles the unique character of a generation of Americans. Brokaw attempted to capture the unselfish contribution of our World War II Americans who built our marvelous country.

  As Brokaw says, “They will have their place in the ledgers of history, but no block of marble or elaborate edifice can equal their lives of sacrifice and achievement, duty and honor as monuments to their time.”

  Pete Turnham of Auburn passed away on September 30, 2019. "Mr. Pete" epitomized the best of the greatest generation. He was three months shy of 100 when he transitioned to be with his maker and his beloved wife, Kay, who preceded him in death in 2016. While on earth, he lived every day to the fullest. He truly made a difference during the century he was here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Faith made Harriet Tubman fearless as she rescued slaves

  Millions of people voted in an online poll in 2015 to have the face of Harriet Tubman on the U.S. $20 bill. But many might not have known the story of her life as chronicled in a recent film, “Harriet.”

  Harriet Tubman worked as a slave, spy, and eventually as an abolitionist. What I find most fascinating, as a historian of American slavery, is how belief in God helped Tubman remain fearless, even when she came face to face with many challenges.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Why it can be hard to stop eating even when you’re full: Some foods may be designed that way

  All foods are not created equal. Most are palatable, or tasty to eat, which is helpful because we need to eat to survive. For example, a fresh apple is palatable to most people and provides vital nutrients and calories.

  But certain foods, such as pizza, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies, are almost irresistible. They’re always in demand at parties, and they’re easy to keep eating, even when we are full.

  In these foods, a synergy between key ingredients can create an artificially enhanced palatability experience that is greater than any key ingredient would produce alone. Researchers call this hyperpalatability. Eaters call it delicious.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Why Americans are staying put, instead of moving to a new city or state

  The story of America is one of moving.

  A total of 13.6% of Americans today were born in another country, and most of us are descended from immigrants. This story of migration also includes moving within the country. Over the last 200 years, Americans have settled the frontier, moved away from cities toward suburbs, and migrated away from cities in the Northeast toward the South and West.

  This narrative that Americans are constantly moving within the country is no longer true.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Schnapps, whipping and sacks: How Christmas traditions evolved around the world

  Christmas has become a cultural event, associated with the giving of gifts and lavish meals with friends and family.

  But the traditional understanding of Christmas is that it’s a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus.

  The idea of giving gifts may be traced to the Bible, in which the infant Jesus was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh by the Three Wise Men, named in apocryphal texts as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Russian flags over an American base

  President Donald Trump’s erratic policy shifts on Syria this fall have planted the seeds for new security threats to the United States and its allies—and Americans are noticing.

  The zigs and zags of Trump’s approach to Syria—announcing a full withdrawal of U.S. troops one week then sending U.S. troops back to “secure the oil” the next—opened the door to new security threats, including the revival of ISIS, a humanitarian crisis, and a continued expansion of Russia’s destructive role in Syria and the broader Middle East. In addition to these immediate concerns, there are the long-term effects that will play out for years to come, such as the doubt cast on America’s reliability as a security partner and the troubling signal that U.S. foreign policy prioritizes protecting oil over human life.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Craig Ford: Building new prisons is not the answer

  Alabama should be building better schools, not better prisons. It’s as simple as that. And the truth is if we had done that from the beginning we probably wouldn’t have the overcrowded prisons we have today.

  It’s a statistical fact that if a child can’t read at a third-grade level by the time they graduate the third grade, then they are far more likely to end up in prison. And here’s another statistical fact: A non-violent offender who completes some sort of education training (like a trade such as carpentry or welding) while they are in prison has only a 20 percent chance of going back to prison, while an offender who does not get that training has an 80 percent chance of going back to prison.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Some Henry County stories

  One of the really good guys in Alabama government took over the reins as President of the Alabama Association of County Commissioners this summer. Henry County Probate Judge and County Commission Chairman, David Money, is an extremely outstanding and quality leader for his beloved county. He is revered by his folks in Abbeville, Headland, and throughout his home county. 

  Henry County is one of the friendliest counties you will ever enter. David Money is their boy, or maybe you might say, their David. You can see a look of admiration and reverence for their David in the eyes of his people when they look at him. He was raised in Henry County and therefore, he knows most of the folks there. His best buddy is his neighbor and friend, Jimmy Rane, the Yellow Fella. Some say this big ole Henry County boy is one of the wealthiest men in the state. Rane still lives in Abbeville and has his business center there. Rane and Money visit over coffee several times a week.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Hate Christmas? A psychologist’s survival guide for Grinches

  Two years ago, I came into work on December 1 to find a bag on my desk labeled “Karen’s Christmas Intervention”. It contained many Christmas themed gifts and challenges – such as watching a Christmas DVD and going to a carol service. These were all designed to help me find something to like about Christmas. I tried everything – after all, someone had made a big effort. But while I enjoyed completing each challenge, it didn’t change my values. I remain a Grinch.

  In many parts of the world, we are expected to love Christmas and embrace all things about it. Anyone who doesn’t is quickly labeled a Grinch and advised to keep their views to themselves so that they don’t ruin a magical time for others. But how reasonable is this? And if you are a Grinch, how can you survive the yuletide season?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Five ways Trump and his supporters are using the same strategies as science deniers

  While watching the House impeachment hearings, I realized my two decades of research into why people ignore, reject, or deny science had a political parallel.

  From anti-evolutionists to anti-vaccine advocates, known as “anti-vaxxers,” climate change deniers to Flat Earthers, science deniers all follow a common pattern of faulty reasoning that allows them to reject what they don’t want to believe – and accept what they favor – based on a misunderstanding of how science deals with evidence.

  As I’ve been watching the hearings, I’ve noticed that a number of characteristics of this type of reasoning are now being embraced by President Donald Trump and his congressional supporters.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Why support for the death penalty is much higher among white Americans

  Sentencing a person to die is the ultimate punishment. There is no coming back from the permanence of the death penalty.

  In the United States, the death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government, the military, and 29 states. The primary rationale for using the death penalty is deterrence.

  As public policy, I believe that capital punishment has largely not proved to be an effective deterrent.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

How the American Civil War cemented modern Christmas tradition

  Shortly before Christmas Day 1864, Abraham Lincoln received an extraordinary Christmas present – Savannah, Georgia. Union General William Sherman presented the captured city to the president via telegram, noting his gift included guns, ammunition, and several thousand bales of cotton.

  An unusual gift, but the tale hints at how traditions bend during wartime. By the time the war broke out, the majority of Christmas traditions that we would recognize – and indeed celebrate today – were in place in America. Many of these built upon traditions from Europe. But the way these were upheld during the war went a long way towards cementing aspects of the American Christmas that has since been commercialized and exported around the globe.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Rick Perry’s belief that Trump was chosen by God is shared by many in a fast-growing Christian movement

  In a recent interview with Fox News, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry stated that Donald Trump was chosen by God to be president. He said that throughout history God had picked “imperfect people” such as King David or Solomon to lead their people.

  Perry is not alone. A large number of evangelical Christians in the United States believe that God has chosen Donald Trump to advance the kingdom of God on Earth. Several high-profile religious leaders have made similar claims, often comparing Trump to King Cyrus who was asked by God to rescue the nation of Israel from exile in Babylon.

  Many of these Christians are part of a movement that we call “Independent Network Charismatic,” or “INC Christianity” in our 2017 book.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

How to tell if your digital addiction is ruining your life

  The fear that digital distractions are ruining our lives and friendships is widespread.

  To be sure, digital addiction is real. Consider the 2,600 times we touch our phones every day, our panic when we temporarily misplace a device, the experience of “phantom vibration syndrome”, and how merely seeing a message alert can be as distracting as checking the message itself.

  This can have real consequences. For example, other people do take it personally if you stop talking to them to answer a message. And taking a break from a task to look at your cell phone precludes deep thinking on whatever you were doing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Race is on for the U.S. Senate

  We are less than three months away from the election for our number two U.S. Senate Seat. The winner of the Republican Primary on March 3, 2020 will be our next U.S. Senator. Winning the GOP primary for any statewide office in a presidential year is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.

  Jeff Sessions is the prohibitive favorite to win back the seat he held for 20 years. He probably regretted from day one leaving a safe U.S. Senate Seat with 20 years of seniority and four years left on his term to take a temporary Attorney General appointment for, at best, a four-year tenure. It amazed me when he did it. Sessions and Trump were at odds from the beginning over Sessions’ recusal from the Russian collusion probe by the Democrats. Trumps’ disenchantment with Sessions was quite obvious and outspoken.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

When words speak louder than actions

  Picture this scenario: A woman contacts a hitman. She tells him she wants her husband dead and promises to pay him $5,000 once the job is done. But the police find out about the plot before the murder can take place and the woman finds herself under arrest. Her defense? She never actually did anything to hurt her husband. All she did was exercise her freedom of speech by having a conversation with a contract killer.

  Does that argument work?

Monday, December 2, 2019

Tolerance and intolerance: The good, the bad, and the ugly

  What is tolerance and is it always a good thing? It helps to understand various aspects of this concept.

Basic Definition. Tolerance is demonstrated by an ability and willingness to accept and respect different people, ideas, and practices. Tolerance promotes non-judgmental, open-minded, patient, permissive "live and let live" attitudes toward diverse people, ideas, and practices. It is an essential virtue in a democratic society. Tolerance, an antonym of intolerance, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice, and it requires respectful acceptance of racial, ethnic and physical characteristics; unpopular, unorthodox, or offensive beliefs, opinions, and practices, especially those that tend to evoke hatred, prejudice, disdain, contempt, or passionate disagreement.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Gift-giving taboos that aren’t as bad as you think

  There are many social norms that dictate gift-giving, including when, how and what to give as gifts.

  Interestingly, these norms don’t seem to be about making sure that recipients get the gifts they want. What makes for a good or bad gift often differs in the eyes of givers and recipients.

  In fact, behavioral science research shows that gifts that may seem “taboo” to givers might actually be better appreciated by recipients than they might think.

Taboo #1: Giving money

  Givers often worry that giving cash or gift cards might be seen as impersonal, thoughtless or crass. Yet research we have done with Robyn LeBoeuf of Washington University in St Louis shows that recipients prefer these more versatile gifts more than givers think they do.

  We find that givers underestimate how much recipients like seemingly impersonal monetary gifts, mistakenly thinking that they’ll prefer a traditional gift to a gift card, for instance, or a gift card to cash, when the opposite is true. And, contrary to givers’ expectations, recipients think that these less personal gifts are more thoughtful, too.

  Why don’t givers realize this? We find that givers tend to focus on recipients’ enduring traits and tastes and choose gifts that are tailored to those characteristics, and recipients are more likely to focus on their varying wants and needs and prefer gifts that give them the freedom to get whatever they currently need or desire most.

  Prompting givers to shift their focus from what recipients are like to what they would like makes them more likely to choose the versatile gifts that recipients prefer.

Taboo #2: Giving a practical gift

  A classic sitcom plotline involves the gift-giving gaffe, with a prime example being the husband who buys his wife a vacuum cleaner or something else practical when the occasion seems to call for something more sentimental.

  These blundering husbands might not be as wrong as you’d think, though: research suggests that practical gifts are actually better-liked by recipients than givers expect. For instance, research by Ernest Baskin of Saint Joseph’s University and colleagues demonstrates that givers tend to focus on how desirable a gift is, when recipients might prefer they think a little more about how easy that gift is to use.

  A gift certificate to the best restaurant in the state might not be so great a gift if it takes three hours to get there; your recipient might think that a gift certificate to a less noteworthy but closer restaurant is actually a better gift.

  In fact, even gifts that aren’t much fun at all, like the fabled vacuum cleaner, can make for great gifts in recipients’ eyes. Work that Williams has done with Emily Rosenzweig of Tulane University shows that recipients have a stronger preference for useful rather than fun gifts than givers expect them to have.

  We find that the best gifts people have received are much more useful than the best gifts they think they have given, and they want givers to put less emphasis on the fun features of a gift and more emphasis on its useful features than they themselves would when picking out a gift to give to someone else.

Taboo #3: Giving an ‘uncreative’ gift

  Givers often feel pressure to think of creative gifts that demonstrate how much thought they put into the gift and how well they know the recipient.

  This means that, even when they are given explicit instructions on what to purchase, givers frequently ignore recipients’ wish lists or gift registries and instead try to come up with ideas for gifts by themselves. Givers think that their unsolicited gift ideas will be appreciated just as much as the ideas on wish lists and registries, but recipients would rather have the gifts they requested.

  Another implication of this is that givers often pass up gifts they know would be better-liked in favor of getting different gifts for each person they give a gift to, according to research by Steffel and LeBoeuf. Givers feel like they are being more thoughtful by getting something unique and creative for each person on their shopping list, but recipients would rather have what’s on the top of their wish list, especially if they are unlikely to compare gifts.

  We find that encouraging givers to consider what recipients would choose for themselves before choosing a gift makes them more likely to go ahead and get the same better-liked gift for more than one recipient.

Taboo #4: Giving a gift that can’t be unwrapped

  The very idea of exchanging gifts suggests to people that they need to give something that can be tied up with a pretty bow and then unwrapped, but, in fact, some of the best gifts aren’t things at all.

  A wealth of research has shown that money is often better spent on experiences than on material goods, and this seems to be true for gifts as well as personal purchases.

  Joseph Goodman of Washington University in St Louis and Sarah Lim of Seoul National University have found that givers think that material items that can be physically exchanged and unwrapped make for better gifts, when gifts that are experiences actually make recipients happier.

  Experiential gifts have benefits beyond simply boosting their recipients’ enjoyment, as well. Cindy Chan of the University of Toronto and Cassie Mogilner of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that receiving an experiential gift prompts stronger emotional reactions in recipients, and this makes them feel closer to the person who gave them the gift. In other words, opt for the swing dance lessons over the sweater – it will make the recipient happier, and bring the two of you closer together, to boot.

If you still can’t think of a gift…

  Gift-giving, especially around the holidays, can be a stressful process for both giver and recipient. An understanding of which gift-giving norms are misguided can perhaps relieve some of this stress and lead to better gifts and happier recipients (and givers, too).

  But even if givers ignore this advice, there is hope: one last taboo to bust is the taboo on regifting. According to Gabrielle Adams of the London Business School and colleagues, givers aren’t as bothered by regifting as recipients think.

  Even if what you get is not what you want, you can pass it along to someone else, and hope that next time, the norms will work in your favor.

  About the authors: Mary Steffel is an assistant professor of marketing at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. Elanor Williams is an assistant professor of Marketing at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

  This article was published by The Conversation.