Are you grateful for the gifts you received this holiday season?

Hopefully, if you wanted an iPhone 4S (affiliate link) and didn’t get it (or got something you didn’t want), you were not devastated like these horribly ungrateful individuals. For more humorous commentary, consider comedian Jim Gaffigan’s thoughts on getting unwanted gifts. If you did receive a gift for which you are not grateful, remember that somebody always wants — or at the very least could use — what you have.

Also consider that, during the “holiday season,” consumers bravely endured pepper spray on Black Friday, delivery drama for items ordered online, travel trauma, and the frenzy of family feudsWhy? To purchase the “perfect” gift for you (just as you might have done for others).

Interestingly, despite the many challenges with which consumers were presented, in addition to the overall economic uncertainty, shoppers came out in force this past holiday season.

According to a December 15, 2011 Associated Press article, “the National Retail Federation…now expects holiday sales for the November and December period to rise 3.8 percent to a record $469.1 billion.” The article further elaborates, “the projected gain is still below the 5.2 percent pace seen during the holiday 2010 season from the prior year, but it’s well above the 2.6 percent average increase over the past 10 years.”

Impressively, despite the odds against it happening, consumers collectively spent nearly one-half trillion dollars buying goods and services that, were it not for the holidays that necessitated the purchases, those items would have most likely never been purchased.

And now, with the holidays fading into the past, everyone is turning their attention to their soon-to-be-forgotten New Year’s resolutions.

When it comes to resolutions, people often list grandiose goals they intend to accomplish and, much like expectations for gifts, often the reality doesn’t match the fantasy. So, how can you start this new year with intention and reflection? My suggestion is to instead make a list of three gratitudes — three people, experiences or things for which you are thankful and:

  • Provide a foundation upon which you can build your life;
  • Whose presence in your life gives you direction;
  • Act as wings that lift you through tough times.

Similarly, Chris Brogan encourages people to “forego the idea of a resolution, and instead, to come up with 3 words that will help you define your goals and experiences for the coming year” with his “My Three Wordsmeme.

So, what are my “three gratitudes?”

  1. My Sons: My boys, Jacob and Max, are my inspiration and motivation. Whenever I am with them, my heart fills with joy and my life is filled with meaning. Both have overcome — and continue to work through — unique obstacles, but they do so with grace and gumption. Their presence fills me with pride, love, and laughter.
  2. My Friends: I have a small core of friends — maybe 5 really strong connections, mostly from my undergraduate years at UCSB, but one or two from more recent years. While small in number they have provided me with unconditional support that has made a large impact.
  3. My Career:  Henry David Thoreau is quoted as saying  ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ I interpret this to mean that most people spend their lives pursuing practicality while foregoing their passion. While both are important, I am grateful to have transitioned into teaching, a career that is both challenging and rewarding.

Those are my three gratitudes…what are yours?

Photo Credit: “thank you note for every language” by woodleywonderworks.

I visited Wal-Mart on Friday, November 7 and was shocked to discover that even though Halloween just ended and we haven’t even yet overdosed on turkey, apparently it is already Christmas! I actually went into two separate stores in Santa Clarita, California:

Both stores had associates setting up the Christmas displays and making related preparations.  Photos from each store are provided below; the first photo is from the store on Kelly Johnson Parkway and the second is from the store on The Old Road:

Wal-Mart 2008 Christmas Decorations

Apparently, I am a bit late in realizing Wal-Mart’s early push: An October 1, 2008  story that aired on the CBS station in Los Angeles highlighted the retailer’s plans to get a head start on the Christmas shopping season.

I suppose I was more surprised than shocked to see Christmas trees already. The first week of November seems a bit early for Christmas, but I recall seeing Valentine’s Day items in my local Rite Aide just after Christmas last year. It seems every year the time betwen each major holiday shopping periods grows shorter as retailers try to capitalize on early-birds and those easily influenced by holiday “sales.”

Wal-Mart Christmas Decorations 2008Given the current state of the economy I’m curious to see what happens this holiday season. The Friday after Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black Friday” meaning that on that day retailers finally transition from operating at a loss (in the red) to operating at a profit (in the black). Yet, given the tremendous economic upheaval and uncertainty going on, I wonder if this day will ever come for any retailer?

Still, there are reports of Wal-Mart experiencing a surge in sales, even as other retailers struggle.  Wal-Mart reported that same-store sales in October were up 2.4 percent as compared with October 2007, not including fuel sales. Including fuel sales the increase was 2.5 percent. Comparatively, Target reported sales of 0.7 percent lower for this October 2008 compared with 2007.

A Los Angeles news station even featured a segment in which a reporter interviewed shoppers at al-Mart demonstrated that even those who drive a Mercedes were driven to save money at the popular discounter. All were focused on saving money and getting the best possible deal.

I wonder how many people are getting coal in their stockings this year — assuming coal is still affordable!