Back in the Dark Ages when we were young (long before computers, pre-Styrofoam, in fact) gift giving was a relatively simple affair. We would make something at home or in school out of humble materials: construction paper, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, popsicle sticks, yarn, macaroni—and when we really wanted to get fancy—gold spray paint and a touch of glitter. We had little or no money to spend, and we couldn't give everyone a heavy clay ashtray each year. (Yes, this was the Mad Men era when kids were encouraged in school to make ash trays for their smoking parents!)
When we had crocheted our last nose-warmer and run out of suitable wood shop projects, we would make gift cards. These were bits of paper promising to perform an act of service or kindness. I gift you ... 3 hours of lawn mowing, washing the windows, breakfast in bed (a risky proposition for both the giver and the receiver), a picnic in the park, a puppet performance, a smile every day for a week, etc. The thought process in making these redeemable IOUs was to consider what you could do that would be special and enjoyable for the receiver—usually mom or dad. Our memory is that few of these cards were ever redeemed; it truly was the thought that counted.
We propose tapping into this tradition of offering acts of service and kindness—and not just at Christmas, but year round. It can be a really small thing like paying for the cup of coffee for the next person in line. Or you can make it into an event like spending the perfect day with a friend. Be creative and focus on things we don't always have time or energy for. We once asked our 90 year old neighbor to show us her photo albums and tell us stories from her childhood. This turned out to be a wonderful gift for all of us. Be spontaneous. We have a friend who often leaves fresh vegetables and other goodies on our doorstep. In turn, we enjoy looking for surprises to leave for her. When you look around, the world is full of gifts.
Recently we heard the artist Joshua Coffy discuss his project of giving a gift every day of the year. He was feeling depressed and decided that one thing he could commit to was doing something nice for someone every day. This daily practice had a profoundly positive impact on his life. It didn't take away all his problems, but it has made his life infinitely richer. As he writes:
"Back when I started my daily giving, one of the things that I noticed was that when you give a gift, you immediately receive a gift. Giving is its own reward. Giving gifts 'liberates' both the giver and the receiver, in that moment. What becomes ultimately important is the shared experience. The act of giving becomes supreme for a small amount of time. Giving daily is like polishing your compassion stone."
Polishing your compassion stone, what a beautiful way to describe the act of giving! 'Tis the season, but why stop on the 25th? Here's wishing that you find ways to add luster—and a touch of glitter—to the lives of others all the live long year.
Read about Joshua Coffy's gift giving experiment and see his beautiful art work documenting each gift.
Make a list of everyone you love. Think of what they really enjoy. Now make them a gift or gift card using the things you currently have. (The goal is to refrain from buying them stuff.) Unlike kids of yore, make sure your gift cards get redeemed so that both you and the recipient can experience the full joy of your offering.
As our gift to you, we are making our annual Slow Holiday Card available for free online.
Sending everyone lots of love and holiday sparkle,
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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