You were on a business trip and found the perfect present for your nephew. You buy it for him, wrap it and bring it over. It’s not Christmas or his birthday. When you arrive, he sees the box in your hand and you see his smile. You let the anticipation build for a few minutes while you greet your sister. Your nephew is bouncing, excited to see what’s in the box. When you finally give it to him, he rips open the paper and as he sees the cool dump truck, his smile widens into a full-on grin. He jumps up and throws his arms around you, thanking you over and over. Then the two of you move piles of stuffed animals from one side of his room to another with his cool new truck. The animated play and his focused excitement fill both of you with joy.
This is the magic of gift-giving. Surprise. Excitement. Gratitude. A shared experience. A true gift. This kind of gift exchange locks in wonderful memories that can last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, during the holidays, we’ve turned this idea on its head. Instead of giving from the heart out of love or appreciation, we give because we’re expected to – out of obligation and some warped sense of barter and reciprocity. We make our holiday gift list by those we ‘have’ to get a present for.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some ideas for recapturing the happiness in gift-giving (and receiving)!
The Joy of Giving
Focus on the people who you want to give a gift to. Start with a blank piece of paper and think about who you want to show your love to. Who is going through a hard time and could use a little pick me up? Who are the people that are always there for you? Who did something meaningful for you this year and you want to show your appreciation? These are the people to put on your holiday gift list.
Find meaning within obligation. If you feel you must give someone a gift this year, find some meaning in that relationship. What does this person mean to you? What gratitude can you bring up for them? Let go of “I need to give them a present [sigh]” and replace it with, “I want to show them my appreciation for being in my life,” or “This will really make a difference to them.” This simple change of perspective can bring so much more happiness to both of you.
Remember the meaning as you shop/make the present. Reminding yourself of the appreciation and love you feel for the recipient of the gift can multiply the positive emotions you feel. Tap into those emotions as you shop for or make their present. These positive emotions may give you that extra dose of patience you need to find a parking spot at the mall or give you that motivation to mix that final batch of cookies. Putting together presents in this way can take the chore out of the effort and make it fun.
Give in-person. When you go through the trouble of buying or making a gift for someone, be there to give it to them. Imbue the gift with all the love it has by telling them what they mean to you or by sharing stories of how they have been helpful or what you see in them. Even if you are uncomfortable, soak in the joy and appreciation that your words and the gift provide. Your thoughtfulness created those positive emotions. Let yourself feel them!
The Joy of Receiving
Find the meaning. See the gift, whatever it is, as a little packet of love. Even if they don’t use the words, find the meaning that the gift represents. This person went through the trouble of acquiring this gift and bringing it specifically to you because of who you are and of what you mean to them. Let yourself open up to that meaning when you receive the gift.
Let go of reciprocity. Gifts are meant to make us feel good. If we get a gift and respond with apology (“Oh, I didn’t get you anything”) or obligation (Now I need to buy them a gift) we drain all the good feelings out of the interaction. Instead of being energized by your appreciation, they feel bad that their gift made you feel guilty. Yuck! What a wasted opportunity. Let go of obligation and be gracious in your thanks. They got you something because they wanted to not to get something in return.
Receive generously. Receiving a gift well – with gratitude and excitement and appreciation – is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.
Let me say that again… receiving a gift well is an incredible gift to the giver. Be that nephew in the story above. It’s not the object that you are appreciating, but the effort and thought that went into putting you on their list and spending their precious time and/or money finding or making a gift for YOU. When you light up and share honest appreciation for that effort you multiply the positive feelings for that single generous act.
If you liked the Crap or Cone talk from John Styn I shared a few weeks ago, watch the part of his TED talk on gifting. (Watch for about a minute from this link.)
The holidays are filled with opportunities for thoughtful giving and gracious receiving. Take advantage of these endless sources of happiness!Eric Karpinski The Happiness Coach
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