Understand how you give and receive.

For the past week or so, my conversations have mostly revolved around the stress of gift giving. Last minute shopping, frantic exchanges of Amazon wishlists, and prowling the mall in search of the perfect gift that says "I'm thinking of you and I know you could go to the store and buy this yourself, but maybe I'm savvier than you and can pick out something dope?" Usually, the dope thing ends up being a cheese basket, my cornucopia of brie and truffled goat cheese hand-picked after twenty or so painstaking minutes of reading every single cheese label. Before you ask, the answer is yes, all of my posts are going to drop a cheese reference. 

Truth be told, I'm not really big on giving or receiving gifts. Unless it's something I've really thought about or feel excited to share with someone, it's hard for me to meet the obligatory holiday shopping needs for my family and friends. It's hard for me to accept that "this is what xyz person wants," especially if it's something I fundamentally disagree with, like buying a bottle of whiskey for an alcoholic or really anything from the Williams Sonoma catalog or a year's supply of fidget spinners.  

I could ramble on about a few cliches related to how I prefer to give people quality time and experiences, but that can be unrealistic when we have to give gifts to upwards of 10-20 people. My personal preference is to donate money on other people's behalf to charities we care about, but that might come off as a cop-out for not getting a gift (which it kind of is, even under the best of intentions). We can cite minimalism as our reason for not gift-giving, but then we're imposing our belief system on a tradition so deeply entrenched in our society that it could be perceived as self-righteous to declare that we're abandoning the tradition entirely. Minimalism is a profoundly freeing concept, but not everyone is ready to accept that you're free to save money and not put any effort into what is supposed to be a reciprocal process.

Surely, there are other ways to give and receive love on a grander scale that encompasses all of the people we want to give gifts to. Maybe the whole idea of giving gifts to everybody at once forces us to spread our thoughtfulness too thin. Usually what happens is that I give gifts to one or two people if I find something that really strikes me. Or, I give a gift to the person who has particularly touched me that year, or to the friend I've fallen out of touch with.

Much like Valentine's Day, I wish that we didn't have structured times for gift giving and demonstrating love, but that it was a bit more acceptable for it to be randomized. Maybe that's just me, but at least I know that about myself. This year, I am challenging myself to be on the look-out for things I'd like to give to others at times that aren't just the holiday season. We should not buy gifts for people because we feel that we have to; this often leads to the purchase of things like candles and Bath and Body Works lotion. Instead, we should try to give in a more organic way. We should receive more organically too. This year, I only asked for one item that I really wanted. In past years, I have not wanted anything, but still been given things and felt bad to receive out of obligation rather than any sort of want or need.

The way you feel about gift giving might betray how each of us gives and receives love on a grander scale. Several decades ago, the 5 Love Languages took off as a framework for why most relationships suffer from severe miscommunication problems. Although it's mostly applied to romantic relationships and rooted in Christian ideology, it can be applied to other areas of our lives. Do we give quality time, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, or words of affirmation to those we care for? In my case, I am not quick to give out a hug unless it's someone I haven't seen in a long time, because there's really nothing much more powerful to me than a longer-than-average hug to close the distance between two people. I know that words are the ways in which I give and receive, and I do it pretty much constantly, whether it's complimenting someone or asking with some level of genuine interest beyond small talk how their weekend went. 

The problem with the holidays is that it forces us all into using the same love language. Perhaps this is also what makes the holidays so beautiful to some. We are all giving and receiving in the same way, and for just a few hours on a single day of the year, there is no doubt that someone cares about us enough to be part of this process, even if it is to buy you your fifteenth horse figurine or another lipstick palette in colors you'd never wear. 

So, back onto Amazon I go, hoping that I can be part of this process in a way that feels meaningful to me.