Now that we’re full swing into the year-end gift-giving holidays I find more and more of my friends and clients are stressed about the one aspect of these holidays that is supposed to make us feel good – the giving of gifts. People worry that they’re spending too much over-all, while simultaneously fretting that each individual gift is too little (either in cost or significance). This constant battle of the wallet vs. “what statement a gift makes” is seriously tainting these “happy holidays.”
I fondly cite one of my many favorite Friends episodes where Joey challenges Phoebe to find a truly selfless act. While she prides herself on being a “giving” person because it makes others feel good, Joey is quick to point out that she ultimately enjoys giving because it makes HER feel good – which in essence is a selfish act.
I too like being selfish in this arena. I love giving gifts to my loved ones because it DOES make me feel good, especially when I know that the gift is something they will likely use, enjoy, and appreciate AND because I don’t stress myself out over the gift. I understand that what makes a good gift is not how much it costs, but how well-chosen it is for the person receiving it. Even the smallest of gifts, if thoughtful, are usually more cherished than an expensive item. I have earrings that cost $1 that a best friend gave me 25 years ago that I still wear and love to this day – because they are very “me” (my style) and because they remind me of our time spent together when we young and broke.
The other important aspect of stress-free gift-giving is to remember that for most of us we are not giving just to receive something back, and most likely neither are our friends. “I do not give to get.” (In fact I have to admit that I get more joy from giving than I do from receiving.) Also, just because someone can afford to buy a gift doesn’t mean that a homemade gift or a “voucher” to do something together at another time has any less value or impact. Often it has more, for what is one of the universal best gifts we can all give each other? Time spent together!
When I was in my young and single and living on a shoe-string budget, I made most of my holiday gifts. I made candles, candlesticks, soaps, hand-painted wine-glasses, and other items — purchasing all supplies needed at dollar-stores. All my friends loved these gifts and even lamented that they wished they had been creative instead of shopping.
So if money’s tight, consider a home-made gift, or a “gift certificate” promising to see a movie together, or that you’ll cook a meal for them, or simply have a night out at a time when you’re more flush. No one wants their friends or loved ones to be stressed this time of year. Year end holidays are about money and gifts – they’re about taking time to count your blessings, and be appreciative of your family, friends, and health (hopefully).
Remind your children (and yourself) that the holidays are not about getting a bunch toys and gifts. What ultimately makes us all happy is simply spending quality time together be happy. Kids need love and memories of time spent with stress-free parents way more than they need the latest gadget. Remember also, that love and thought-fullness is the best gift we can all give to each other and ourselves!
In a life where so often we have to ignore or postpone those things that give us the most joy, today I want to suggest that perhaps we all need to do a few more things that make us feel good. I’m not talking about selfish-joys that are detrimental to others or negate your responsibilities (and I also am not referring to adult-fun either). I’m talking about hobbies, passions, and pursuits that bring you personal pleasure (like artistic endeavors, being outdoors for fitness or sports, reading, seeing movies with friends, etc.). With lives so full, and martyrdom often prevalent (women in particular), many people consistently negate caring for their creative/fun sides.
Remember, life is short and the things that give us joy in life, the passions and hobbies we pursue, the moments of fun and happiness we share and experience, are essential to living a long and healthy life. Too often we isolate those moments into rare and even accidental instances, as our priorities lean heavily on jobs, family needs, and mundane chores that keep our lives chugging forward.
If you do not plan, schedule, and commit to decent chunks of time for you to do what makes you feel good, then you will not spend much time in that happy zone. It’s been well documented that people who maintain elevated levels of stress without a constant and regular outlet for their creative juices (the “happy zone”), suffer serious detriment to their bodies and minds.
When stress levels stay high, muscles and organs do not get enough tension release, which causes reduction in your immune system (more illnesses), increase in inflammation to tendons and muscles (tendonitis, arthritis, and muscle spasms), and your mood will be and stay suppressed (depressed). Life is meant to have a balance between hard work and playtime. Our bodies and spirits require the “peaks” to balance out the “valleys.”
Now if you tell me you have no hobbies or passions (as some of my clients have attempted to do), I will call bull on you (everyone has at least one thing that gives them that personal inner-joy, even if it’s just relaxing with a good book). The excuses most often cited are time and money. Well time is not the enemy, it’s your management (or mismanagement) of it. As for money, while some hobbies are clearly expensive to pursue, there are ample simple joys that everyone can partake in.
So start by figuring out what it is that you find enjoyment from while simultaneously stimulating your imagination and/or body (i.e., reading, arts & crafts, walking, hiking, dancing, playing games with the kids, etc.), then schedule in your calendar (and with your family) WEEKLY time where you will do just that thing (or those things). Make it important enough … see the importance to you … and then it will be a priority just like all the other necessities of life that you pay attention to.
Give it one month, and I know you will see and feel a difference in your life and your outlook. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback about what made you feel better.
For those of you who have read Dickens’ quintessential novel Great Expectations you should understand, as the Hero Pip learned repeatedly, that having expectations leaves you open to disappointment. Yet I repeatedly encounter clients who suffer from angry or hurt feelings because they had imposed expectations upon a loved one, or made assumptions about a situation, only to experience a completely different end than anticipated.
To me, having expectations is akin to hoping, dreaming, imagining – more fantasy than reality. Don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in the positive power of hoping, dreaming, and imagining, but only for the purposes of motivating, inspiring and planning. Once a solid dream or hope has been focused into proactive action, then you are truly on your way to achievement. However, you still cannot expect that these plans will turn out exactly as you planned. There are too many variables out of your control. But a solid plan (which in a way carries within it’s structure an “expectation,” albeit as a minor role) has contingencies built in, so ultimately you can, and will, succeed in achieving that which you had hoped, dreamed or imagined.
The most rampant misuse of expectation is assuming a specific reaction (or action) from another person. This is where you set yourself up to fail and suffer emotional distress. Raise your hand if you have ever said or did something nice for someone with the expectation that they would return the favor. Okay, now raise your other hand if you were disappointed by their response. Did they react less enthusiastically than you expected? Did they not treat you or comfort you as wonderfully as you had them? Did you feel ignored or underappreciated? Now the bigger question: has this happed to you repeatedly and/or frequently?
Look at any situation where you felt hurt, angry, or betrayed. Did you possibly place expectations upon an individual that in reality were contrary to how they operate? Think about this – there are two types of “inherent personalities” in this world (the two extremes, that is): selfish personalities and generous personalities. Some types wake up in the morning and immediately think about what they can do for their family and friends to make them happy. Others’ first thoughts are what they can do this day to make themselves happy. This does not mean that inherently selfish types cannot learn to balance their tendencies with acts of selfless consideration and thoughtfulness. Likewise, inherently generous martyring types can temper their selfless habits and learn to pay equal attention to their own needs.
Where your understanding of these two types is important is knowing that if your spouse is inherently selfish and you are inherently generous, then an expectation that he/she will treat you (or respond to you) exactly as you would treat or respond to them is a recipe for serious disappointment. Conversely, the inherently selfish type may often suffer from feelings of chronic guilt because he/she never seems to satisfy their inherently generous loved ones.
The solution is two-fold. First, look at the person you are dealing with and honestly examine how they operate. For example if you are dealing with someone who is overly-excitable and tends towards short-fused, emotional outbursts, then expecting a calm and rational response to certain situations would be foolish on your part. If you are hoping to elicit a strong emotional reaction or instant decision from a loved one who is slow-pondering and indecisive, be prepared for serious frustration.
Next, and most importantly, whenever possible, examine your expectations and see if your intentions are less about what you are giving and more about what you are hoping to receive. Sometimes we operate on “auto-pilot,” acting and reacting out of what seems like a need to help or give to another, when in reality, we are really wanting to receiving something we need (emotionally). If you can resign yourself to either (a) focusing strictly on the “giving” and not expecting a specific (desired) reaction or result, or (b) be more straight-forward and ask for what it is you truly need, then you will may indeed sidestep this “great expectations” vicious circle.