The website logo, featuring a string of black mountains, capped in snow, with a setting sun behind the range. The title "The Mountains Are Calling" across the bottom.

Opt Outside

Since 2005, Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day in the United States. Sometime in the 20th century, the day after Thanksgiving became the de facto beginning of the Christmas gift-buying season.

Though many consumers proclaim to love the frenzy of Black Friday and the deals that appear then, we need to look no further than the name of the activity to realize the rush to shop might not be full of rainbows with pots of gold at their termini. Placing the adjective “Black” in front of a date has traditionally denoted a calamitous event, starting with the Black Friday Panic of 1869. Dates of stock market crashes have been adorned with the “Black” label several times. One hypothesis for the origin of Black Friday comes from the police forces in Philadelphia and Rochester describing traffic during the shopping sprees in the 1950s.

In true American fashion, corporations have attempted to give Black Friday a positive connotation. Preying on the fear of missing out, stores offer “unbeatable” sales. Get there or lose money!

What could possibly go wrong if you draw crowds motivated by financial decisions to choke points in stores?

In the 2010s, Black Friday started to produce stampedes and riots, as humans attempted to outrace other humans to televisions, computers, and toys. It was dangerous and embarrassing.

To address the situation, companies began to make opening times earlier! Black Friday became Black Thursday. In 2009, Kmart opened at 7:00 PM on Thanksgiving to give people the chance to avoid traffic and to “return home in time for dinner with their families.” The cynical take might have less to do with family time and more to do with longer hours to sell goods.

Beyond the potential injuries one could sustain during a rush, do people actually like Black Friday? eBay biometrically tracked shoppers during the annual running of the bull markets. The results showed Black Friday can be as stressful as running a marathon. Heart rates of shoppers – not sprinters or athletes – rose 33%. Astonishingly, 88% of the people displayed tachycardia, which is defined as a quickening of the heart rate to levels over 100 beats per minute. Subjectively, after just 32 minutes, 60% of respondents reported they felt “exhaustion” from shopping. Those who engaged felt more pressure to buy impulsively than to take a step back to make an informed purchase.

REI's Black Friday statement

In 2015, Recreation Equipment, Incorporated, decided to change the trend.

They implemented a policy called Opt Outside. On Black Friday, REI does not open its stores, does not take online orders, and gives its employees the day off to enjoy nature. This year, the company made the idea permanent.

Scientific study increasingly shows us that spending time in nature is good for the mind and body. Going to the forest is edifying medicine. Even mere minutes outside can reset the body during stressful situations.

The Opt Outside movement from REI is a bold choice. Obviously, the company loses money by not selling on the busiest shopping day of the year. The need for balance in life is increasingly clear; the situation is not dialectical. If you are predisposed to joining the shopping hordes during the holiday season, remember to compensate by viewing wildlife, taking a walk, or stargazing. We can also make informed decisions when we spend money. REI, at least nominally, recognizes the need for balance; perhaps we can think about patronizing these types of establishments. A list of other places that support Opt Outside is linked below in the Further Reading and Exploration Section.

Though we focused on the Black Friday phenomenon, opting outside can apply to any day or season. When things get hectic in life, take the time to stretch your mind, body, and soul by visiting the great outdoors.

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