This week is generally a mad rush for people trying to frantically finish their shopping; trying to make sure that everyone on the list is accounted for with the proper gifts. While giving is the spirit of the season, the flip side is that for every give, there is a receive. How many of us are really comfortable when we are this side of the equation?
When you are handed a gift, how many times have you said “Oh, you didn’t have to” or “Oh, you shouldn’t have”? Somehow this can slip out so easily, but what does it really mean? Do we think the person gifting us truly thinks a gift was “required” and we are trying to enlighten them? Or do we mean that we didn’t think it was expected so we didn’t get them one and we are trying to excuse that fact? Do we say it sometimes when even though it could reasonably be expected that one would bring a gift (eg. a birthday celebration), but we are trying to give the impression that the gifts are not important to us? As we age, have we somehow come to believe that adults should outgrow the excitement of gifts? If we are financially successful and don’t “need” anything, do gifts become unnecessary or less significant?
When we stop to consider things from the giver’s perspective, we see that some responses can diminish their own excitement. Seemingly polite protestations from the beneficiary of the gift encourage the bearer to minimize the significance of it. ( eg. “Oh, it’s nothing” or “It’s just a little something”) It is as if the giver is pushed into a polite corner and encouraged to make light of their own thoughtfulness. There is little room to maneuver from these widely used expressions. If the bestower truthfully said, “I spent days shopping for the perfect item to present to you as a symbol of my true esteem for you”, most recipients would be dumbstruck. We don’t know how to accept heartfelt, meaningful gifts anymore, especially in social settings. As a society, we have encouraged politeness above substance which means that we are unpracticed when faced with heartfelt kindness. Because the familiar is easier, the giver cooperates in diminishing the significance of the present in order to save the recipient the discomfort they might experience if they realized that it was intended to be a meaningful exchange rather than a trivial social obligation. Sadly, in doing so, despite making a sincere effort to create a bond, the gifter is denied the joy of pleasing the other and the giftee is denied feeling the honor that a gift should create. Instead, the event becomes a superficial social exchange with minimal emotion recognized.
In more personal situations, the stakes are even higher. A negative, or non, reaction to a gift can leave the giver(s) with a sense of personal failure and disappointment. I have seen spouses and children work hard for months to make a particularly special occasion memorable with what they thought to be the “perfect” gift. Upon presentation, a lukewarm, or less than enthusiastic reaction from the beneficiary crushes the excited people who were really just trying to show how much love they had for the person. The best gifts are actually simply tangible expressions of the giver’s feelings. Big, expensive gifts can be ways for people to express huge emotional outpouring of love. They can be used when we want to overwhelm that person with the intensity of our feelings because we don’t have the words to adequately convey them. On the other hand, there are many times when the actual object exchanged is not the most important aspect. It could be the timing or surprise that is used to convey the emotional expression. As in most of life, it always comes down to the feelings involved. Feelings are reflected in the thoughtful evaluation/choice, the search/shopping and finally the wrapping/presentation of the gift. These are the true value in every present exchanged this season.
Adults and even children recognize this when presented with gifts from younger children; colored scribbles, shredded papers, macaroni designs are all greeted with sincere Ooohs and Ahhs. Thanks and praise are exchanged freely. Why do we think that only young children want such warm appreciation for gifts? If I wrap my love in pretty paper and a bow for my loved ones, is it wrong that I hope for them to feel my unspoken affection? Is it selfish that I want them to be touched by it and return it back to me with smiles and appreciation? I give the love freely and I know there is no obligation on their part; but it makes my day so much better when I am able to hit the spot and my gift of love triggers love flowing back. That is my version of a perfect circuit.
This year, try to notice where you are in any particular gift circuit and do your best to let your true feelings add to the connection. Don’t hold back your excitement, affection, love. Receive with joy, honor and gratitude. Recognize and celebrate the meaning in every exchange. Complete your gift circuits and bask in the energy created.