QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Christmas is in less than four weeks. What do you advise for gift giving? I’m feeling overwhelmed by the obligations that come with the holidays.

Gift giving can be stressful, invoking many conflicting values. About 15 years ago, the holiday season felt more like a chore than a joy to me, so I wanted to make a drastic change. I eventually felt trapped in gift-exchange hell, diminishing the joy of the holiday season.

Getting honest with myself


When I reflected upon the situation, I realized that I needed to change, but tradition, obligations and more heavily weighed on me. I finally got the courage to do what many people may secretly want but don’t have the wherewithal to do: I wrote a loving letter to all of my friends, and, in a graceful way, said that I would no longer be celebrating the holiday season by giving gifts. I would be sending them good tidings and best wishes instead, because I already felt blessed with their friendship and presence in my life. I encouraged them to spend on their family and loved ones any time, money and energy they would have spent on me.

Relief and freedom

After my initial guilt was diminished by the positive comments I received from my friends, I felt relieved! It was one of the best things I ever did for myself. This is not to say that I won’t get a gift for someone if I am inspired to do so (and I often am), but it freed me from the stress of obligatory gift giving.

This may not be for everyone, as the obligation to buy gifts on special occasions is deeply rooted in our society and culture. I encourage you to try it with at least the “outer edges” of your friendships and acquaintances, and set a new standard, especially if you want relief from some of the stress of holiday gift giving.

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I was surprised at how many people responded positively, telling me that they were thankful for the suggestion and the letter I recommended. In my line of work, I always try to help people find what is true for them, sometimes suggesting that they have to do things that are challenging, because the result will be worth it.

Send your questions to Alice Inoue owns Happiness U, a lifestyle studio where anyone can find positive inspiration and high-level guidance. Visit