By Laura Staley, Founder of Cherish Your World
We are heading into that time of year of gift exchanges and celebrations. Even as adults, we can feel excited to give and receive gifts. But sometimes for many of us, it’s tricky too. Even if we overall love the exchange, there may be a tug of anxiety, unworthiness, or other feelings that have nothing to do with this gift or the person it’s being exchanged with, or maybe you have discomfort with the particular gift or individual. Letting go of any baggage we have regarding gifts may free us to truly enjoy this time of year.
I use to feel unworthy of the kindness of strangers and the generosity of friends, in part due to general qualms about my worth and in part because I had often been called ungrateful as a child. I would thank people profusely and awkwardly from a deep well of shame and unworthiness, feeling I didn’t deserve or hadn’t earned acts of generosity, gentle words, or gifts. The experience of writing thank-you notes filled me with more guilt and shame. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful or couldn’t write a beautiful note; it’s that my gratitude was suffocating under the weight of my discomfort over receiving gifts in the first place.
When it comes to giving gifts, some of you may love sleuthing, hunting for a gift, wrapping it, and watching the recipient’s reaction to it. Some of you, however, may have difficulties related to giving, loving the idea of giving to others but finding it difficult or anxiety-inducing to choose a gift or give it in a way that feels right. I noticed that I could give gifts fairly easily, even though it wasn’t my primary way of showing I care for loved ones, but receiving them continued to be challenging.
It took me years to unravel the tangled mess of my thoughts and feelings with regard to gifts. I learned to become very practical if I asked for gifts so I had a chance to actually receive what I asked for. This was especially the case in my marriage of many years, which has since ended. To protect myself, I had very low expectations or none at all so I wouldn’t be hurt.
Several years ago, in an effort to infuse gift-giving with positive energy, I began purchasing more personal gifts for myself, wrapping them, and putting a note on the package like “From someone who loves you” or “From Santa’s elves.” This gave me the opportunity to open a gift or two especially since giving gifts was not my ex’s primary way of expressing his love. I remembered my grandma doing this for herself to great benefit. I discovered it felt good and fun.
In an indirect way, gratitude journaling—identifying and writing about the things I was grateful for—helped to dispel much of my discomfort regarding gifts. It’s not that I had not been grateful in the first place, of course; if anything, I was too grateful. But as I looked through my days for things to be grateful for, I began tuning into the ways we are continuously giving to and receiving from one another. I came to see the exchange of gifts as part of that gentle flow. When we give another person a gift, part of what we are saying is “Thank you for being in my life and for being who you are.” And when we receive a gift, we are receiving that gratitude from the other person and in turn saying something like “Thank you for the time you took to think of me, buy or make this, and prepare it for giving.”
You may have encountered times you did not know what to give another person, as with a new member of the family, a colleague for a holiday exchange, or that hard-to-shop-for loved one who claims to have everything he or she needs. You might purchase something and miss the mark, leading to an awkward moment. If the recipient does not seem delighted, do you pretend not to notice, offer to take it back, or assure the person that you won’t be offended if he or she returns it and gets something that’s really wanted or needed? Gift receipts are wonderful to include in gifts so the recipients have the freedom to return or exchange the item. You can lightly mention that the gift receipt is included “in case you want to return or exchange it for any reason.” This further frees the recipient to return or exchange the item with your blessing.
Another example of uncomfortable issues involving gifts may include receiving an unusual gift that you don’t need or want. You might wonder about what to do with that belonging now. You don’t want to offend the giver, but you don’t want to keep it. It becomes a loaded form of clutter in your space: You do not use, wear, need, or want it, but you feel guilty. This discomfort can be further complicated if the giver expects you to use or display this gift in your home, perhaps even insisting that it’s your taste.
I often give clients permission to let go of any items that do not make them feel good, no matter how the belonging came into the client’s space. Keep in mind that this is an option for you. With gifts, you can express your heartfelt gratitude upon receipt and know that in most cases the gift really is an expression of love and that the gift giver was thinking of you. (Sometimes, depending on your relationship with the giver, it’s more complicated—but even then, there’s usually a grain of something kind and pure.) So you can keep the good thoughts of this person and this gift-giving effort but let go of the actual item. Depending on the relationship, you might choose to have an honest and kind conversation (preferably at some neutral time, such as a month or two before the next holiday) about what each of you really likes to receive, what matters most to you, and in which ways you like being appreciated. You can start by asking about the ways the other person likes to be cared for and the kinds of gifts he or she would like to receive from you. You might get great new ideas about what the person would love to have.
For the insistent people who think that you should also love what they love, you have several choices. One is to look the person in the eye, smile, and thank the giver for the gift, and then later let the belonging go. If it is a homemade gift, then you really may want to keep it for a little while and think of it as a precious handiwork of love, even if it’s not your style. Again, depending on your relationship with the giver, you may decide after some time passes to have a conversation about gifts and what could work for everyone involved. Maybe you want to move in the direction of creating meaningful experiences with this person, if you both would enjoy this, and you will no longer need to exchange gifts because quality time together brings more enjoyment. Sometimes in a large family, a gift exchange (with each person drawing the name of one other person) can free everyone involved to spend less money and time on gifts and add a fun twist to the holidays.
Conversations about the gifts, material and otherwise, you enjoy—especially if the conversations involve deep listening, honest sharing, and openness—can open up new ways to appreciate the people in your life and to be appreciated by them. It helps to identify the ways the people closest to you like to be loved and to express his or her love. You may have heard of the “languages of love,” a concept pioneered by Gary Chapman. The idea is that each of us has different ways of receiving and giving love. These languages are gifts, words of affirmation (written or spoken), quality time, acts of service (kind or thoughtful deeds), and physical touch. We may have the same language for receiving and giving, or one preferred language for receiving and another for giving. You might find it helpful to know your language of love and the languages of others, so you can use this information in giving to others as well as in communicating what you most appreciate.
Receiving with gratitude feels wonderful and opens the heart. Begin to feel and even savor that sensation of gratitude when it happens. You can ask others for help, even (especially!) if that’s not something that you normally do. If feelings of shame or guilt persist, you can promise yourself to pay the kindness forward. You may not be able to pay the kindness back to the person who gave generously to you—at least in the same way—yet you can pay it forward in an interaction with a stranger, a friend, or a family member.
Life presents many ways to give or help. Giving can be as simple as your compassionate presence, a listening ear, a hug, a smile, a word of encouragement, or a door held for someone. When you give freely from a place of “no strings attached,” it feels good and is proven to help the giver, recipient, and even onlooker.
It feels good to give, and it can feel good to receive, especially when we realize others in our lives also genuinely enjoy sharing with us and spreading joy. Giving generously and receiving graciously can become an expression of an open and loving heart.
For more information about the five languages of love and Gary Chapman’s ideas, go to 5lovelanguages.com. I welcome your feedback, comments, and insights. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (@laura_cherish).
Author of Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui. Get your print or Kindle copy at Amazon.com, or your print or Nook copy at bn.com
“Love your space, love your life!”
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura helps people thrive in the physical spaces where they live and work. She educates people about the optimal arrangement of belongings for comfort, safety, and flow; de-cluttering for freedom; and staging for an efficient and rewarding home sale. Laura knows that the conditions of our homes and workplaces shape the quality of our lives.
Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by more than a decade working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to help her clients produce remarkable results in their lives. Her own awakening to the power of feng shui came on the heels of a flood and the realization that she could live with beloved belongings rather than unloved hand-me-down stuff. Feng shui invites us to live with what we love and enjoy our lives. Her trifecta of helping people includes public speaking, writing, and consulting. Laura is a published author of the book Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui.
Prior to becoming the founder of Cherish Your World, Laura was a full-time parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Each summer she competes in a triathlon named after her dad. Her joys in life include parenting, loving her dog, spending time laughing with great friends, running, biking, swimming, dancing, reading, meditating, practicing yoga, and listening to music she loves.
Connect with Laura on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (@laura_cherish)
Love your space, love your life!