Each November, I sit down to write about gift-giving. I try to allay your fears that you cannot afford to spend enough to make your loved ones feel really loved. Or worse, that you will spend so much trying to fulfill their every wish that you will far exceed the amount your budget can bear. So this year, rather than telling you that there is more to the holidays than being a smart shopper, I’d like to show you.
Over the years, I have received many holiday gifts from my family. But each one has given me one special gift that stands out. Allison, my oldest, gave me five letters one year. The envelopes read: “Open when you need…Some Lovin’, Some Happy, Some Inspiration, Some Wisdom.” The letters within take my breath away each and every time I read them.
My youngest recently gave me a deck of cards hole-punched and kept together with two metal rings. The cover card reads: “52 Reasons Why I Love You!” I could barely get through the deck. I laughed out loud at: “You let me pick out your clothes.” I read through tear-filled eyes: “You’ve taught me what faith is.”
My husband, business partner and best friend asked me what I wanted most from him one year and I said, “A love letter.” He delivered. I’ll say no more – but you can imagine.
This Christmas I have a surprise for my family: They are each going to get my favorite gifts – but given from me to them this time around. Allison will get letters, Amanda will get 52 reasons why I love her and Michael will get a love letter. Each gift will take much time, some talent, and very little money.
Now, I am not naïve. I have kids. I know that presents are important.
Over the years, I have worked hard, like you, to meet their expectations – OK, the expectations I have set – on Christmas morning. Every material thing that we have given them over the years was appreciated. But that feeling never lasted long. Even the “happiness” they felt as a result of receiving the gifts they most desperately wanted did not stand the test of time.
So I asked them, what gifts mattered?
Just as I most treasure the gifts they gave me that cost very little in cash but a great deal in time, effort and emotion, they said they most value the experiences we shared. Vacations, some away, some “staycations” when the budget was tight. Time spent in the kitchen with Dad learning how to cook. Talking around the kitchen table after dinner each night. Cuddling on the couch while we watch a movie.
When they were younger, it was time at the park playing with us, seeing us in the seats at their sports events, a kiss goodnight, a letter telling them in writing that they were loved no matter what.
This is what they remember – not the material gifts. They remember the time, the love, the attention. They never get enough.
“Can Money Buy You Happiness?” (Wall Street Journal, 11-10-2014), backs this up. Writer Andrew Blackman reports on science that proves experiences provide more happiness and more lasting value. “The new dress or fancy car provides a brief thrill, but we soon come to take it for granted.”
So here is my gift to you: Stress less about the material gifts you give this season. Focus on the experience. Make cookies. Drink hot cocoa. Grab new snow and cover it with chocolate sauce for a treat. Skip the holiday letter – send a family “selfie” picture as a holiday greeting instead.
Happy Holidays, everyone! I wish you memorable, long-lasting gift-giving this holiday season. I wish you peace. And, I wish you an abundance of love. Thank you for all you have done to help us do good work that fills us up every day of the year.
We are most grateful.