Across the globe, the month of December stands for giving.
It invites us to be generous and mindful of others. Are "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" proof of this generosity or indications that we have lost the heart of what makes this season so special?
The question is whether our gifts need to be material. Are there other ways for our presents to be meaningful and lasting? Here are eight gift ideas for a more loving, compassionate Christmas.
How much do you focus on the emotional needs of your friends and family, instead of on their material wishes? You might discover that such a gesture has an immediate healing effect on both of you.
GIFT 1: Giving and Receiving Attention
One of the greatest gifts to another is your attention – quality attention, that is. Time spent with your loved ones without the distraction of technology, work or external pressures can transcend any gift left under the tree.
Think about the reciprocal exchange of attention. In order to give attention, there must be someone there to receive it. It is the most basic form of give and take. Both the giving and receiving are equally important so if someone is giving you their attention, ensure that you are mindfully receiving it.
Perhaps call someone this Christmas – without any ulterior motive – just to say hi and enquire about them and their well-being. Make an appointment for an impromptu stroll with a friend or a meet-up somewhere cosy for a hot drink or soup. Wrap a ribbon round the invitation and it’ll make for a heartfelt gift.
GIFT 2: Safety and Control
When people persistently feel unsafe, at work or home, it causes stress. This is closely linked to an experience of lack of autonomy or ability to positively influence your life.
How we react may vary. Some may suffer from restlessness and anxiety; others may become aggressive. A third person may feel the need to become overly controlling.
If you know someone who is lacking solid ground under their feet at this moment and would like to surprise them with your gift then look for ways to give him a sense of safety - however brief; a way of allowing him to connect with himself.
You might also think about putting time aside to listen to the guided meditations or chats by Pema Chodron on YouTube with your friend. These are gifts in themselves to listen to. She encourages us to embrace uncertainty and doubt. You only need to listen to feel the perspective on your situation shift….
GIFT 3: Friendship and Intimacy
Modern life has transformed the world into a global village, and yet in reality too many people feel isolated and lonely. It is a deep human need to feel unconditionally accepted by at least one other person.
Give your friends your full, undivided attention when you are with them – and reserve judgement. Have frequent conversations, not just a catch-up once a year. 10 minutes of meaningful conversation can equate to a whole hour of distracted meet-ups.
A doctor friend of mine, talks about the 10-minute-hour she devotes to each patient. With three simple questions she penetrates directly into the heart of her patient:
- What has been going on in your life lately?
- How do you feel about that?
- What is the most important thing about it?
Not surprising that her patients get better faster!
GIFT 4: Community
This need is closely linked to that of friendship and intimacy in our lives. Feeling connected to one another is an essential emotional nutrient; connected to our family, friends and the larger community. Virtual connections will never replace the bond with neighbours or a local community. We need physical, human contact.
You may notice this need in a friend and suggest that you join a group together in the New Year that interests you both; whether that is hiking, reading or a supper club. Take a look at the website www.meetup.com where there is an explosion of meet ups in the local community, to cater for every imaginable interest.
Christmas is all about caring. Why don’t you do some voluntary work with a friend over Christmas, to give back and connect with your community at large. Meals on Wheels are always in need of help. To find out more click here
GIFT 5: Self-Esteem
Everywhere I hear people groaning about the madness of December. We often struggle joylessly with our shopping in the crowded streets, or get frustrated at the lack of parking or other hassles of modern living.
Why not spend a bit more time thinking about what exactly is so special and unique about our loved ones. Buy a postcard featuring an inspiring quote, image or work of art and write it down! Let them know now why you love them, and if you feel a bit inexperienced, let yourself be inspired by Alexandra Franzen's beautiful book 50 Ways to Say you're Awesome.
GIFT 6: ‘Drifting Time’
"What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare."
William Henry Davies
What a great truth, because we need to withdraw and have regular downtime every day; time to be unaccountable for what we are up to. I call it my drifting time; absolutely essential for my emotional sanity.
Respect those moments in the lives of your spouse or children too. Encourage them to take time out for a bit of pottering and wasting of that time.
There is productive power in taking regular private time. (Read more about The Power of Private Time)
Consider treating your partner or girlfriend to a retreat in January, when all the festivities are over.
I promise you from personal experience: it’ll create a sea of inner space.
GIFT 7: Mental Stretch
Mental challenge is an important ingredient for our emotional well-being. As we learn and discover, new neural pathways are created and our brain grows. When our natural intelligence and curiosity are not fed, we experience stress. This is a shrinking brain.
Encourage a person in your life to enrol for a course or study. Treat him or her and realise how many opportunities there are to transcend our limits - of drawing, writing, cooking, dancing, acting, learning a new language, traveling or delving into philosophy or practicing yoga.
We can also increase our motivation and creativity by focusing on the small everyday victories. The results are amazing. Listen to Teresa Amabile and buy your friend a journal to track the small wins and moments of joy in their lives.
GIFT 8: A Sense of Meaning
Finally, the greatest and most precious gift of life; without meaning, there would be little reason to get out of bed in the morning.
In a healthy life, in which all the above-mentioned emotional needs are met, meaning will be present as a natural consequence.
Karen Armstrong has made it her life's work to compare ancient philosophies and religions from all eras and corners of the world and distill a common denominator.
From all these sources of wisdom, she has found that our meaning comes from connection:
- With yourself, which you experience when you learn to give expression to your own talents and abilities;
- With all living beings with whom you share the earth - humans, animals, nature;
- With the invisible great mystery of which we are a part.
Take stock and look around you. What do your friends and family really need from you and how can you reconnect with the real meaning of this festive time?
We have more than enough things.
Look away from the shopping aisles and into real life.
About Human Givens
These are eight important human needs that we work with in the Human Givens approach: security; attention; sense of autonomy and control; emotional intimacy; feeling a part of a wider community; privacy; sense of status; sense of competence and achievement; meaning and purpose.
They are the cornerstone of mental well-being and fulfilment. Each of these gifts goes someway to address the needs, but they are in no-way a substitute to effective therapy. If you, or a family member, require therapy please contact me or consult the Human Givens website to find a therapist near you.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent and the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.