Gifts that Give!

With the holiday season around the corner, the necessity of gift-giving is on most of our minds. Many of us feel pressured to provide and ‘prove’ our love for others in a strictly material way.  But, gift-giving is much more than just spending.  If done thoughtfully, it can provide a wonderful emotional, social & spiritual effect on you and your loved ones.

The actual definition of a ‘gift’ is the transfer of something without the expectation of payment. A gift is meant to be free! The term gift can refer to anything that makes the other happier or less sad, especially as a favor, including forgiveness and kindness.

When I was growing up I learned that giving gifts was a quintessential way to show how much you loved someone, with the caveat that the bigger and better the gift, the more you loved.  The gift was expected to be both expensive and the exact thing that would thrill the receiver.  (No pressure at all!) I would try desperately to figure out what others were buying so I wouldn’t look like a ‘cheapskate’. I would never have considered limiting my spending or forgoing gift-giving. Going into debt during the holiday season, on the other hand, was a given. I’ve spoken with lots of folks who have similar experiences, some of whom have decided to put their heads in the sand and come up for air once the holiday season is all over.

However, buying out of ‘obligation’ is a trap you can get yourself out of. It does little to enhance your or the other person’s quality of life. People who feel obligated to buy, most often get it all wrong.  According to a British survey some of the gifts men buy for women that are ‘all wrong’ include: incorrectly fitting underwear, exercise DVD’s, kitchen utensils, cheap jewelry, chocolates, shoes or slippers. The gifts women buy for men that are ‘all wrong’ include: unwanted clothes, gadgets, man bags, jewelry and framed photos. I’m sure most of us have been guilty of this ‘quick fix’ approach at one time or another. Being on the receiving end you may have wondered why on earth they even bothered – you’re never going to use it!  In a time of increasing social and global consciousness, this practice is simply wasteful.

Pull out of the cultural hype of bigger = better and use this gift-giving season to make a meaningful connection to someone who matters while staying within your values and your budget.  Give to define your relationships and strengthen your ties to family and friends.  Measure your gift-giving in terms of the amount of joy you can spread.

Start by setting a budget.  Make a list of the people you want to give gifts to and how much you would like to spend.  Keep the list close to you at all times for easy reference, and do your best to stick to it.

Here are a few ideas for creating wonderful and affordable gifts:

  • If you know a family that struggles with finding the time to do things together, get them a family pass to an activity or place that everyone can enjoy.
  • Sign up for a yoga or relaxation class with a friend and use this gift as an opportunity to spend time together.
  • Get family members to exchange names and agree to homemade gifts with a spending limit.  You can sew, paint, carve, build or bake something for each other that won’t set you back financially and will get you thinking about what your family member might enjoy from you.  This gift will have special meaning because it came from you.
  • Take a family vacation in lieu of expensive gifts.
  • Send the same book to a group of friends and start a virtual book club that will keep you connected throughout the year.
  • Invite someone you know who has no family to your home for a festive meal.
  • Organize a charity drive among people you know to help those less fortune – those that may live close by but are struggling during hard financial times.
  • Buy cooperative games for children and spend time playing with them. When I play these games with my grandson we laugh and help each other throughout the game.  This is a far cry from the standard competitive games that often leave him frustrated, sad and feeling like he’s ‘losing’.
  • Make “coupons” for your time.  Offer your babysitting services for a couple who have small children so they can go out and enjoy time together.
  • For Couples  – you can design a date that you feel will really make your partner feel special.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot, it’s more the fact that you have thought of them and put in the time to do it, that means the most.  For example, you can plan a ‘winter picnic’.  Get a basket, fill it with food and drink, get a table cloth, some candles and soft music.  Spread the table cloth in front of your fireplace or on the living room rug.  Hang out together enjoying a romantic and affordable time.

Remember that mindful gift-giving has a positive psychological and emotional effect on us.  It reinforces our feelings for another person and allows us to communicate that we care.  It helps us to share something unique about ourselves and our relationship to others and by doing so, creates a sense of belonging and safety. Whenever we feel safe, our nervous systems can relax and we ‘feel better‘.  It’s a scientific fact.  As Oprah says, “What delights me most about the holiday season is that people are more open to giving and sharing. And actively thinking about how to spread more joy.  There is no better feeling, for sure”. (

So go ahead, spread more joy, incur less debt and enjoy your holiday gift-giving.

Best wishes to you this season,
Sue Diamond-Potts

Sue Diamond Potts, M.A., has a private practice in Vancouver, B.C. where she sees couples and individuals struggling with issues of unresolved relational trauma and addiction.  She has assisted Ellyn in her on-line training for the past several years by answering blogs, providing supervision and teaching on addiction issues in couples therapy.  She offers training in the Bader-Pearson model to therapists in the Vancouver area.

Comment below – how does this change your gift-giving attitude?

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Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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