With the commercial side of the holidays in full swing, it's good to pause and reflect. Our culture is saturated with incentives for buying things, even as many of us realize that experiences make more sense. An abundance of psychology research has shown that money spent on doing tends to provide more enduring happiness than money spent on having.
Four studies have demonstrated# that the most important benefit happens before we make a purchase. Anticipation or waiting for experiences feels better than waiting for things. It's not necessary to spend a lot on experiences, either. In many cases, a little planning based on what's happening around town can go a long way.
We also need to consider that incentives to buy encourage certain behaviors, and by their very nature occupy energy and thought, which end up eroding from other things — like actually spending time talking with our loved ones. The gifts buying activity does the heavy lifting and often substitutes the companionship. Is it a good trade?
The idea of giving is sound; execution can use improvement. Beyond the object itself, which could be symbolic and something useful, when we give of our self, the value becomes exponential. To give in this manner we open the door to touching and being touched by others, especially when we learn to do the kind of listening that suspends judgement and has the purpose to honor and respect the other person, as they are.
We may not choose our family, but family is important for the sense of where we're from and potentially to have a safe haven. (It does mean playing our relationship cards right.) Our community/ies of practice, interests, proximity, and/or choice are also important. When I had nobody and nothing in a new city, an invitation to a family dinner by a colleague went a long way to create a sense of belonging.
On a recent business trip, I learned from conversation around the table that more people do open their homes and hearts to others than one would suspect given current social media flybys and busyness trends. As is the case with so many things, there's more to it than on the surface. Because most of the people who do the work just do it and don't feel the need to market it, we're not aware of alternative life choices… and opportunities.
In THE most popular TED talk of all times, Sir Ken Robinson has a quip about “our bodies having become transport systems for our heads.” We live in our heads, yet we make a life with our hearts… and bodies. The touch of a human hand has healing powers.
In the past eleven years I've been sharing a lot from my reading and learning on Conversation Agent, but likely have not mentioned that I consider movies and music conversation mediums as well. Music has shifted a lot over the years, and my taste with it. But with classical music — particularly Frédéric Chopin Prelude in E minor Opera 28, No. 4, which speaks to the soul — we cannot go wrong.
Movies are for the scripts — Nora Ephron was the best, Julie & Julia, for example, but there are many others — as well as the acting. The script can make a huge difference because dialogue, even the absence of dialogue, are foundational to story.
So this Christmas I thought I'd do something a bit different and suggest a list of good stories to watch, curled up on the sofa, a cup of warm cocoa with rum, single malt or cognac, or a glass of Barolo in hand. Even nicer when in the company of loved ones.
A small selection to get you started.
- Moonstruck — one of the best ever lines is in this movie. Nicholas Cage-Ronny Cammarery says, “Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either, but love don't make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit.”
- A Hard Day's Night — this just for the filming and interaction. It was really far ahead of the times, filled with serendipity and invention at every turn. Love the black and white choice, too.
- Eat, Pray, Love — (haven't read the book.) Julia Roberts is very credible and does help with “Attraversiamo” or let's cross over into the Italian culture. The one line in the dialogue, “In the end, I've come to believe in something I call 'The Physics of the Quest.' A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”
- Rear Window — huge Hitchcock fan (see lesson in creativity, and in conversation with Truffaut on the art and craft of storytelling), and wrote a paper that got me an A+ on the point of view in this movie in University. The story pulls you in, you're behind the lens. Suspense keeps building throughout the dialogue.
- Love, Actually — has a great message. As the Prime Minister character says, “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.”
- The Help — with a great Viola Davis. “God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free. And I got to thinking about all the people I know. And the things I seen and done. My boy Trelaw always said we gonna have a writer in the family one day. I guess it's gonna be me.”
- Groundhog Day — because we've all experienced misalignment in our lives (for example in customer service.) Bill Murray has many good lines like, “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”
- The Man who Knew Infinity — Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons share the screen. Ramanujan see things differently. This is not how most of us think of math, “There are patterns in everything. The color in light, the reflections in water… in math, these patterns reveal themselves in the most incredible form. It's quite beautiful.” Hardy does some comprehending as well, “There are no proofs nor underlying laws that can determine the outcome of matters of the heart. Of that I'm sure.”
Movies are opportunities for conversation — the story, the lines, the cinematography, and our own version of what they meant to us. Good movies are like good novels, they take us on a journey of the imagination and we put a little bit of ourselves into them.