Since Obama was president, we’ve heard a lot about income inequality.

It’s certainly a catchy, alliterative phrase. It likely started out in the mind of some economist or professor, trying to make a name. Obama and his allies used the term ad nauseam, and, unfortunately, the phrase has continued to be overused, to the point of rendering it annoying.

But income inequality is still a real thing, and it’s kind of hard to take sometimes. We Americans have stark differences in lifestyles, even here in Maine. We have Biddeford Pool oceanfront dwellers, with their beautiful homes overlooking the waves, while mere miles away apartment dwellers in downtown Biddeford live a completely different lifestyle.

With Christmas coming soon, now is the perfect time to consider income inequality and its cousin – the happiness quotient. Unlike liberals and progressives who preach that income inequality lowers one’s happiness quotient, conservatives realize that one’s happiness is not tied to income. They realize it’s a fact of life, is relative and doesn’t much matter in the long run.

Picking a Christmas tree for your holiday home is a great example of how one’s happiness – based on traditions, family and friends – renders meaningless the supposed effects of income inequality.

Just as I’ve been force-fed the notion that income inequality should be eradicated so everyone can be equally happy, I’ve also been brainwashed to believe going out into a field and cutting my own Christmas tree is the best and most traditional way to secure a tree for the holidays. Recently driving by the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Rotary Club’s Christmas tree sale display at Mill Creek Park in South Portland changed my mind forever, though.

What a beautiful sight it was. The small, urban park’s trees were lit up with fantastic Christmas lights and the Rotary Club’s circa-1970s camper-trailer and ample supply of pre-cut Christmas trees looked like a scene out of “A Christmas Story,” with Ralphie and his family joyfully shopping for their somewhat-less-than-stellar tree.

It also looked like a scene from my childhood spent far away from any balsam fir tree fields and accompanying my mom, dad, brother and sister as we went to search for a pre-cut, parking lot tree in our suburban hometown.

Growing up, I had heard about those lucky ducks who cut their own tree for Christmas and I vowed that when grown I, too, would live the American Christmas Dream and cut down a tree in a field somewhere. I believed that a legitimately traditional Christmas required it. Those parking lot trees of my childhood weren’t good enough. Pre-cut trees just didn’t cut it. I wanted more. Because I’m an American, I deserved a tree I chose and cut myself in a Field of Christmas Dreams.

Oh, I was so brainwashed. I’d been convinced by the culture that parking lot trees weren’t good enough when, all along, they’re probably better. I don’t have to tromp acre after acre to find the best-looking tree. I don’t have to kneel on hard, wet ground and strain my neck muscles to cut a tree trunk at an awkward angle. I don’t have to drag it across a snowy field to my far-off car. And, best of all, I don’t have to pay a huge premium to do it. Pre-cut trees are cheaper, more conveniently displayed and, best yet, remind me of my childhood tradition of watching my dad finally find that perfect tree.

There are many Christmas traditions. Each of us has them. The act of following a long-held tradition, no matter how common, is what makes us happy. More money doesn’t make those traditions any better. Following the crowd and their traditions doesn’t make us happier. A bigger tree, bigger decorations or bigger Christmas feasts don’t make the holiday more special.

Happiness can be had if you spend nothing or $10,000 on your Christmas traditions. Someone at the lowest levels of the pay scale has the same, if not better, happiness quotient as the family in the big house with all the Christmas lights. Attitude is everything when it comes to Christmas joy. We can take a lesson from the little kid who’s more excited to play with the big cardboard box than the expensive Christmas gift it protected during shipment.

Attitude is also everything when it comes to life. We can be envious of our neighbor, which is what anti-capitalists are essentially doing when they stoke the flames of income inequality, or we can appreciate what we have and realize life is about more than money.

We need to be happy and satisfied with our pre-cut trees rather than dreaming of how much happier we’d be with a choose-and-cut fairy tale.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.


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