For many children the holidays unleash a thrilling swirl of getting. Piles of presents, twinkling lights, jingling bells—so much to take in! As adults our focus shifts as we become the bestower of gifts, the lighter of lights, and the jingler of bells. With maturity we come to embrace the joys on the other side of the equation. The wish list is replaced by the gift list. Despite the season's many foibles, there is a kernel of magic at the core of our celebrations: the transformative power of giving and receiving.
Remember the story of Stone Soup? Starting with a stone and some water, a delicious meal is created as each villager offers a morsel of carrots, potatoes, etc. to the pot. With every contribution, they progressively create something greater than is individually possible, something nourishing to both the belly and the soul.
This story demonstrates how our well-being grows with the free flow of giving and receiving. When people are moved to give, especially to give a bit more than they've taken, there is an upward spiral of energy in the relationship. Everyone's lives are enriched as they exchange resources with others and feel a greater sense of connection, trust, and belonging.
Every giver needs a receiver, and so we need to be able to both give and receive for the spiral to ascend. Without this balance, even our closest relationships will wind down, particularly when:
There are exceptions to this dynamic in the case of caring for children and others who are incapacitated in some way. In these situations it is appropriate for the more able adults to do most of the giving. However, for most of us, most of the time, we are best served by a balance of giving and receiving in our relationships.
We first learn about this dynamic in relationship to our parents and siblings. Our view of the world—it's relative abundance and scarcity—is shaped by this early experience of giving and taking which was beyond our control as children. But as adults, if we choose, the holidays can become a time of personal healing and transformation. In the depths of the darkest season, we have the opportunity to stretch beyond our usual reach and to take in all the wonderful we desire, and, in return, be more conscious in what we offer others.
As you consider moving a few of the naughtys on to your nice list, there is still the question of what to give. People are their own best clue and tend to give you what they themselves want. This is why our practical aunt gives us underwear, our crazy uncle a pet tarantula, and our mom a box of Thank You notes. More clues can be found by considering preferences we have for expressing and feeling love. In Gary Chapman's Five Languages of Love he offers, you guessed it, five different ways to say you care:
Still not sure? Ask your loved one directly. (What a sweet conversation that could be!) In addition, you can save yourself and them lots of time and grief by telling them what type of loving rocks your boat. To this end, we offer the following Clip and Share:
It is easy to want to throw the holiday baby out with the crassly commercial bathwater. And yet this season remains a time when we can tap into a deeper part of ourselves and find the gifts we want to offer up in celebration of our connection with others. Likewise it is a time when we can practice receiving, as we drink deeply of those things we need and love, be it hugs, help, or good times together.
Is it easier for you to give or to receive?
What challenges you about giving? About receiving?
Which expressions of love are most impactful to you? You can take this free online survey to find out.
Choose one relationship you want to change for the better and find a way to modify your behavior over the holidays. Always giving? Try pulling back and enjoy receiving. Always taking? Try giving more. Never taking? Tell people what you really want, and then really enjoy it.
Wishing you all a generous season full of good food, good things, and good times.
Beth and Eric
[Originally published December 1, 2011 and updated and re-published on December 1, 2016.]
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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