If for no other reason, do it for your children. American children, no matter how well off they may be materially, are among the most stressed out in the rich world, according to data from UNICEF and the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
Back in 1969, as a Peace Corps trainee, I taught English at a Navajo Indian boarding school in Shiprock, New Mexico. We lived with the students in dormitories. They came from throughout the giant reservation and spoke no English at all when they arrived at school. I asked them to teach me Navajo while I was teaching them English. But I learned more than Navajo from them.
I learned how little it takes to be happy, and how too much stuff can actually be a barrier to wellbeing.
The Navajo children we taught were perhaps the poorest in America. Their parents earned less than $600 a year. They came to the school with two sets of clothes and virtually nothing else. We had little to entertain them besides volleyball nets and basketball hoops and the balls that went with them. But the children never told me they were bored. They made up games constantly and could always amuse themselves. They simply loved to play.
They came from a culture where children were honored with time and the chance to play, and frequent community celebrations where they could connect with others. Later, many of them would find it hard to fit into the dominant culture and turned to alcohol and other forms of escape. But at ten, they were among the happiest and best-adjusted children I'd ever seen.
By contrast, when I returned home for Christmas that year, my own nine-year old brother and his friends opened mountains of presents, scattering the paper all over the floor. Their bedrooms reminded me of a Toys R Us store. But a couple days after Christmas, the toys were all off in a corner and the boys complained that they had "nothing to do." I don't want to glamorize the lives of the Navajo kids at Shiprock, but I sometimes feel more pity for the children of entitlement who get plenty of stuff but whose parents, despite chauffeuring them to and endless series of scheduled activities, are too stressed out to simply play with them.
So give the gift of time, and give the gift of play.
Take time this season for conversation, for a walk in the park or the snow, to tell someone how much they matter to you, to have real heart-to-heart talks, to write a poem for a friend, paint a picture or sing a song. Take a ride on a ferry or a Ferris wheel. Enjoy a long slow dinner by candlelight. If you do give a physical present, make it something you've thought about that can truly enrich the life of the recipient.
Remember that psychologists have shown that experiences bring more long-lasting satisfaction than stuff and that loneliness is the most painful of conditions and everyone needs someone who cares enough to spend time.
One of the speakers at the 2015 Vacation Commitment Summit pointed out "Don't take a vacation for yourself. Take it for the people you love." In other words, taking time for vacation and leisure with family and friends is the opposite of being selfish. It is not just good for you – it is good for your loved ones.
So this holiday season, don't forget to give the gift of time. And start doing it now because there's no present like the time!
John de Graaf is the president of Take Back Your Time