The act of giving is embedded in our social & cultural traditions. The expectations, and therefore also the pressure, of gift giving around Christmas and even office birthdays can sap the joy of what is intended a gesture of generosity and kindness for those we love. It is the reason I have shunned the whole commercialisation of gift giving.
Most people will admit to dreading Christmas and the whole stress that present shopping and exchanging causes. How many of us can actually genuinely say we love all the gifts we receive? So why do we keep participating in this ridiculous cycle?
What I love is the spontaneity of unexpected gift giving. It is one of the most joyous things in life. The joy is multiplied for both giver and receiver when it comes as a surprise because the recipient will know it is a genuine gesture.
I recently went to housesit for a friend for a weekend and my partner, who is abroad, managed to track me down and surprise me with a beautiful bunch of roses. I was so delighted because not only was it a surprise, but he had gone to the effort to find out where I was staying. Because it was not tied to a special occasion, he could have easily sent it to my home on any other day and I still would have been delighted. But the flowers became extra special to me because of the thoughtfulness and spontaneity of his gesture.
Why do you give people gifts? I give them because I want to make someone feel good, if their day is made brighter by it, then it also makes me feel happy.
When you need to watch your purse strings, you don’t even need to buy someone something to make them feel great. Sometimes just giving your time is all someone needs.
Recently I was walking on a busy London street and woman stopped to ask me directions. I stopped to help her, but within seconds she started telling me stories of her life and childhood. A part of me started to think what I should say to get away. I wondered if she was a religious evangelist or whether she was going to ask me for money. It occurred to me that I wasn’t actually in a rush to get anywhere and that actually maybe she was just lonely and needed someone to talk to. I could spare 15 minutes of my time so I just listened and people rushed past us on the footpath. Much of what she told me didn’t make sense to me, but she became more animated and smiled the longer she talked and that also made me smile. 20 minutes later I thanked her for sharing such personal stories with me, but told her I needed to go. The smile dropped from her face. With a serious expression and earnest tone she thanked me so much for taking the time to talk to her and told me that it really meant a lot to her. She asked if she could hug me. It was an awkward question, but again, I realised there was no harm in hugging an old lady on a busy street. So we hugged and wished each other a good day.
It was the most random event and most of us would freak out if it happened, as I did at first. But this experience made me understand that gifts are sometimes are a lot less obvious than we think and our time can be more valuable than giving someone a physical present.
The simple, unexpected gestures of kindness are really priceless. It can be as simple as offering someone a seat on the bus without having to be asked, helping an older person across a busy street, giving your partner a massage or a cup of tea when they are stressed, telling someone something you appreciate about them and just being there and listening when someone is upset.