The True Spirit of Christmas

“Giving is better than receiving.” We all take this as gospel. But how many of us live it day-to-day?

Anyone who has ever spent serious time selecting and giving a gift can tell you the truth: the joy of selection easily beats the drudgery of shopping, and the joy of giving easily outweighs the joy of receiving — especially if you received the gift you had asked for. There are few things more disappointing in life than getting exactly what you expected (tweet this if you agree).

The Buddhists say there are two tragedies in life 1) Not getting what you want and 2) Getting what you want. There is a way to escape the horns of this dilemma; instead of focusing on yourself, focus on giving what you can to others so that they get what they want. Or, better yet, so they can get what they didn’t know they wanted.

A well-chosen gift delights the recipient, rather than just checking an item off their “wanted” list: it aligns with their values and taste, while introducing them to a freshness that they come to love.

Steve Jobs gave us the iPhone that we now can’t live without, but nobody would have asked Steve to build a phone with a touchscreen and no keyboard. Elon Musk gave us an electric supercar that puts all other automobiles to shame, but nobody was asking him to build a sedan that could accelerate faster than terminal velocity.

Giving amazing gifts is about creating delight and surprise in the receiver. Everything about the gift should be considered: how it fits into the receiver’s life, how it will be used, the moment in time it will enter their life, how long they will likely use / have it, and how they can dispose of it or pass it along.

Much more important than simply giving great physical gifts is giving something much more precious and irreplaceable; your time, your attention, your presence, your kindness, your positivity, your perspective. Time is a gift because none of us knows how much of it we have, and it is always running down.

Rushing around in a cold, disconnected world, where we are all just scrounging together enough money to protect and feed our families and create some measure of comfort and security, it is too seldom we gift one another with our genuine warmth, our focused and attentive listening, our kindness, and our positivity.

You will find that if you focus on giving these things this holiday season — and every season thereafter — your true Wealth, as measured by your happiness, life satisfaction, and fulfillment, will increase without measure. The joy and personal satisfaction that comes from rendering humble service to others will come to pervade your life. You will want to do it more and more. And that will in turn plant the seeds of seeing yourself receive all the service, help, and resources you need.

In an insecure society, the only true security comes from relationships with others. An investment of our time, our attention, our presence, and our kindness is the only coin we can use to pay for those relationships and their enduring strength through times both hard and easy. There is no shortcut to building these “thick” relationships, and it is through continued commitment to building them that we protect ourselves in the web of interconnectedness that sustains us through life’s dark days.

As we take time off from our daily grind this holiday season, I encourage you all to take time to reflect on how you want to give of yourself this coming year. How can you delight and surprise your loved ones, friends, family, customers, clients, or colleagues? What can you do to invest precious time and energy into the “thick” relationships you want to strengthen (and that you want to strengthen you)?

There is no shortcut to community. There is no magic bullet for relationships that are worth having. Take the time and put in the energy to make your 2016 about building durable community, about strengthening bonds, about creating new links in the chain of human interdependence.

“God created us so that we should form the human family, existing together because we are made for one another. We are not made for an exclusive self-sufficiency but for interdependence, and we break the law of being at our peril.” — Bishop Desmond Tutu

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, wherever you are.

Originally published at FG.