This post is about presents. Not just the ones that come wrapped with a gift card, but also those things that we say or do or experience that make us feel good. Someone (maybe you) shares a compliment or goes out of their way to be helpful. Perhaps you catch a glimpse of a new moon or a favorite song pops up in your thoughts. This post is about all those kinds of presents. It is about the ones we give and receive as well as well as the ones we don't.
Ever expect that someone will give you a present and they didn't? Do you think there is someone who might have thought you were going to gift them something and you didn't? Maybe they told you of their disappointment. Maybe they didn't. Maybe you expressed yours. Maybe not. Disappointment can take time to repair. None of us fully lives up to what those close to us wish we were, but when you have expectations for someone and they don’t measure up it can hurt on both ends.
I was told by a woman I dated once not to have expectations. While that might be helpful, it was and is not easy to do. We want those close to us to behave in ways that make us feel good. We want to feel good about them, have them feel good about us and we all want to feel good about ourselves.
So, yes we need to be careful about imposing the burden of our expectations on others as well as our ourselves. Best to be open to what the moment provides and not be grumpy because someone disappointed you. Yet that is easy to say and not so easy to manifest. We are discouraged when we don’t get what we want especially if we have been dropping hints. Even when we try to hide our hurt it shows. Others know. That is mostly because we want them to know. They disappointed us and if we don't let them know they are liable to do it again. So we half-heartedly hide our displeasure. It is kind a weak way to punish them for not living up to our expectations. While it may not be our finest hour I would imagine we have all throw an emotional dart at someone for causing us pain which we ourselves inflicted by having the expectation in the first place.
It is not easy being human. Well, maybe it is all too easy. Harder to rise above the slings and arrows of our outrageous mis-fortune.
Maybe someone gives you a present that shows how little they understand you. That miss is more excusable when you first met, but not after you’ve been around the horn a time or two. People want the people around them to get them, understand them and know what they want. Ideally someone knows you so well they get you exactly what you want or at least it is easily returnable and they came close.
I ask my students which they would prefer:
• Someone knows you so well they get you exactly what you want without your ever telling them • You tell someone what you want and they get you exactly what you want • Someone gets you something you didn’t know you wanted but once you get it you are thrilled
Most students care least about option 2 and I have to agree. There is not a lot of unexpected pleasure. Yet, I point out, often when you ask for something you do not get exactly what you want if anything at all. It is certainly something to be thankful for when someone gets you what you really want. The size, color, edition, specifications and other particulars are exactly what you wanted. No returns or semi-earnest thank you’s necessary.
Many students think those close to them ought to know what they want, yet it is comfortably affirmed when it is manifested. When someone close to you knows you so well they can anticipate what you want is reassuring. Life is functioning the way you would like it. Maybe not jumping for joy good, but comfortingly good.
Most students really like the idea of getting something that opens a vista for them. I would think most adults would agree. Not knowing or realizing the value of something until someone introduces it you could be a jumping for joy thing. Or at least a mild wow thing. Your life just got expanded in an engaging way. How great is that? Sort of like discovering a great new show on Netflix or an author with a trove of books.
There are all kinds of presents that are given and received daily. You can start with the gift of life and go through your day counting all the gifts there are in life. Of course, for every beautiful sunset there is a toxic sinkhole bubbling somewhere. While you could say even the sinkhole is a present as it reminds us to be diligent in the protection of our earth. Some presents are better than others. Some last a moment. Others a lifetime.
Since this is a primary season of gift-giving it can be helpful to reflect on the gifts we receive and the ones we give. People give presents that cost a lot of money and ones that cost no money. They give a gift they bought, made, inherited or just found at the last minute. There is an art to giving. An art to receiving. And a whole lot of room in between.
I ask students if they would rather give than receive or receive than give. Most of them can easily answer that although some call it a draw. I imagine you know where you fit in.
To give someone something you first need to: • Have the thought to give them something • Think about what to give them • Find it, get it or make it • Wrap it • Write a card • Get it to them • Find out what they feel/think about it.
There are a lot of steps involved. Steps that can be joyful and not so joyful. Steps that can be easily taken and ones that get stalled and create a bonus gift for you – stress.
To receive a gift you need to: • Receive it • Appreciate the moment and be thankful for the gift. • Open it • Respond to it.
If you happen to be in the presence of others you want to look happy and pleased. Yet that may not exactly be what you are feeling. Others usually know if it was hit or miss and how close/far they were from the mark. When you open a present you need to take care of their feelings while you manage your own. It helps if you like what you get. It is not so swell when you don’t. There can be a lot of pressure on this end just as there is on the other. To the giver and receiver can come the gift of stress, with possible relief and/or guilt yet to come.
Another thing about the giving and receiving of gifts is that the gift often can be wrapped in an IOU. You get the gift and now feel like you need to reciprocate in some way. While the giver may have no intention or desire to be repaid, that doesn’t always take the receiver off the hook. People often feel obliged to reciprocate. It is sort of the positive version of an eye-for-an-eye. You give me this and I give you that.
While some gifts come with no strings attached, others certainly arrive with the expectation to be paid back. Those IOU gifts are not often highly desired by anyone, but if the gift is good enough or the relationship meaningful enough, people are willing and maybe even happy to reciprocate. Of course, what you give and what you get may often not seem of equal merit, expense or thoughtfulness. Keeping a healthy balance in present exchange is an event by event activity that often feels weighted one way more than the other.
If you think you give a lot of presents and get less in return that can bring the gift of resentment. Which may or may not be spoken, but which can affect the relationship. Gift giving has different value to people. I have friends who don’t do much gift engaging and can find the process more stressful than pleasing. Some of my friends and I have decided it is easier not to give gifts that cost money, but instead to give the gift we all value the most. Time together.
Time is something we all have, but with each day we have less of. Spending time with family and friends is as good a way to invest your time as any. When I can give or receive time to be with those close to me it provides me anticipatory joy. I like knowing and looking forward to being with family and friends. Almost as much as I like being with them. There is something in the sanctity of loving friends and family that fills my heart and comforts me. Family has always been home base for me. Be it the family of my birth or the family of my friends. Within those groups I feel the gift of love and acceptance. I don’t have to do or be anything special. Just me.
Growing up many people take for granted the day-to-day time just being together affords until it begins to slip away. As children grow their time gets filled with their own friends and interests and their family of origin time decreases. That home time, however it was provided, was a touch stone for everyone that dissolves with time.
The older we get the less time we have with those close to us. Our friends build their own lives as we build ours. While it seemed we used to spend endless time together it now feels like glimpses. Glimpses to be appreciated and valued for the gifts they hold in our lives.
I encourage you to give the present of time to those you love. Give it to you and give it to them. This is the kind of gift giving that carries way less stress and often provides greater reward.