gifts“The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t know about you, but the holidays are such a peaceful, relaxing time for me. I find that I simplify my schedule, breathe deeply and appreciate all the amazing moments that happen this time of year.

OK, I just laughed so hard at that first paragraph that I spat water on my keyboard and fell out of my chair.

I know that for most of us, this time of year means more items on our to-do lists, additional deadlines and a frenetic pace that leaves us exhausted by the time January 1st rolls around.

Now I get that almost none of us can give up a certain amount of material gift-giving.  But I think we sometimes forget how much those intangible gifts really mean to the people around us.  So without trying to add to your obligations, here are a few true gifts I think we can all manage:

True gifts to give family, friends, co-workers or the jerk who just stole your parking space:

1. Put your cell phone away. Silence the ringer, turn it off, leave it in the car, hide it between your mattress and box spring. Do whatever it takes so you spend some dedicated time with someone without them worrying about your attention span. If the phone isn’t your thing, then watch where else you may be electronically distracted. We’re a culture who spend most of their days interacting with devices that have a plug to an electrical current or a battery life. Instead, have a meal, play a game your kids love (even if it’s the seriously-when-will-it-end game of Monopoly that includes three episodes of breaking down into sobs, only two of which are yours), listen to a friends new collection of death metal CD’s… just be present. Honestly, you will never regret time spent undistracted with people you care about.

2. Truly listen. Listen to someone without thinking about what you are going to say next.  Don’t worry about what piece of advice you are going to give them, or wander off in your mind thinking about what you need at the grocery store. Sit still and hear every single word they say. It can be surprisingly difficult to completely listen to someone for even just a few minutes. Try and allow them to say everything they need/want/have to say instead of interrupting them. Bonus points if you are able to do this with a kindergartener or the elderly gentleman in the grocery store who expounds on the merits of Crenshaw melons for 15 minutes.

3. Let people you know how you really feel about them. Got a co-worker who always works really hard and you know you can count on them? Tell them that. Remind your young daughter how wonderful it is to watch her make art.  Tell your friends (especially ones that aren’t particularly close) when they make you smile or why they are special to you. In this day and age we are waaaayyyyy too honest when we’re upset – particularly on social media. I’d like to see us more honest when we’re happy or touched or grateful for people in our lives.  Most of us interact with many people in our day.  How much better would it be for a few of those around you if you took the time just to let them know how much those interactions mean?

4.  Extend physical contact to people. Have you heard of companies popping up all over the country who exist solely for platonic cuddling? I kid you not. People are so starved for physical contact from others that they will pay good money to have someone lie on the couch with them and watch television. Now, I’m not suggest you give all your coworkers a handmade gift certificate entitling them to an hour of free cuddling with you, because, well, that’s just creepy. I am suggesting, however, that extra hugs or a hand on a shoulder or a pat on the back to those you are close with would go a long way. We get complacent, or stuck in our own worlds sometimes and forget to look outside of us for what people need. Hug freely (even your surly teenager who will swear he doesn’ t want you to touch him, but really does) and hug often. So maybe you don’t give out hugs to your doctor’s reception staff, but hug someone on their birthday or after they’ve had a really, really crappy day. A little human contact goes a long way.

5. Remember we are all doing the best we can, aka show empathy. Sometimes, people disappoint us. They let us down. They yell or ignore, they are selfish and self-absorbed or completely clueless. They take the last cookie, the last parking space or your last shred of patience. And I assure you, nine times out of ten, they are honestly doing the best they can. Even if their best just yesterday was fifty percent greater than it was today. People have bad days, wear out, finally buckle under the pressure, are distracted or sometimes just can’t muster the energy to pretend anymore. And that goes for yourself too.  A little extra empathy over the holidays can make the difference between insanity and understanding.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a holiday season where your to-do list is suddenly completed, or where you don’t have to rush around or even where Uncle Fred doesn’t end up getting drunk off Aunt Ida’s fruitcake and falls asleep snoring in the corner. But I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that these gifts I listed aren’t just for the people around you. If you implement even one of these suggestions, I promise, you will be changed also.

So in this season of holiday hustle and bustle, if you can’t have silent nights (or days) where all is calm, may they at least be bright.

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