Pleorexia is my new word, a perfect descriptor as we start the holiday season. Pleorexia. ‘Pleo’ means more than the usual number, and ‘rexia’ means appetite, as in anorexia, having no appetite.
Thus pleorexia means having an appetite for more than the usual number of things. In my mind I take this to describe more than just the winter gluttony typical of the holiday season, which I assume is triggered by a deep genetic memory of winter starvation, but also the appetite for things, stuff, and other objects that we hunger for.
Let me try out a sentence using this word. “Pleorexia as an economic strategy is not sustainable because purposeless overconsumption creates financial and ecological consequences that will eventually become self-limiting.”
There seems to be an additional incentive to shop this year. Spending money, as it stimulates the economy, has become a patriotic action. Thus another sentence using my new word would be, “Tomorrow the shopping malls will be crowded with pleorexic patriots.”
I ponder these thoughts as my email inbox is overwhelmed with Black Friday announcements supposedly warming me to my Christmas shopping spree. Until recently there was a tradition to postpone these shopping encouragements until after Thanksgiving, no doubt out of respect to the Pilgrims and their contributions to American culture. They left us with a holiday that centered on encouraging gratitude.
We often forget that the Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas. ‘Not celebrate’ is too mild a statement. They did everything they could to suppress the celebration and in early New England Christmas was virtually non-existent. The Puritans found no scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas. They considered the holiday as solstice celebrations, a holdover from paganism and idolatry and outlawed it. The choice of December 25 was seen as non-historical, having no basis in actual history, a mirroring of early Roman celebrations. It wasn’t until Christmas became a Federal Holiday in 1870 that these views began to slowly change in New England.
Our culture has come a long way from those Puritan roots to our modern state of pleorexia. What would Cotton Mather say?
Coming back to this idea of Thanksgiving being a holiday to take stock of all those good things we already have in life, I want to mention the research of Dr Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis. http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/labs/emmons/PWT/index.cfm
Emmons, a professor of psychology, has made it his work to examine the benefits of gratitude, creating measurement tools to assess gratitude and also techniques for increasing the experience of gratitude. Does it surprise anyone that increasing the amount of gratitude people experience also improves their sense of happiness, wellbeing and health? In his research experiments Emmons has participants keep daily logs. It comes as no surprise that he reports that those asked to keep a daily count of good things that happen in their lives, things that they are grateful for, end up feeling greater happiness, satisfaction and contentment compared to those people who keep a running list of the daily hassles and annoyances they experience. (1,2,3)
How do we learn to feel gratitude? Emmons’ technique is to make lists and keep daily diaries. I haven’t tried this technique yet. Instead in recent months I give patients writing assignments. I have them purchase boxes of note cards and suggest that several times a week they write and mail a ‘thank you’ note to someone.
My thought is that this will have a two-fold action. Besides cultivating a sense of gratitude in the writer, the recipient also gains. I assume that feeling appreciated is beneficial to one’s health even if I can’t find something published to cite in support of this statement.
By the way, Louis Prang (1824 -1909) a lithographer who immigrated to the United States from Prussia in 1850, is credited with inventing both the Christmas Card and the Thank You note. He also invented the Prang Color Wheel to show primary, secondary, and intermediate colors with their shades and tints. Speaking of color, Prang is also remembered for a quote. He was campaigning against anti-immigrant legislation passed by the “Knownothing” party and urged his listeners to support only that political party that “does not measure civil rights by place of birth, or human rights by color of skin.”
Froh JJ, Sefick WJ, Emmons RA. Counting blessings in early adolescents: an experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. J Sch Psychol. 2008 Apr;46(2):213-33. Epub 2007 May 4.
Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Feb;84(2):377-89.
McCullough ME, Tsang JA, Emmons RA. Gratitude in intermediate affective terrain: links of grateful moods to individual differences and daily emotional experience. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2004 Feb;86(2):295-309.