We’ve already been bombarded with commercials and advertising that urge us to purchase holiday gifts. The ads may feature perfect smiling people in idyllic settings. We can count on there being some sort of holiday background music–perhaps sleigh-bells or a vaguely Christmassy jingle. A touch of sparkle will appear at some place in the commercials. The ads remind us that it is time to spend generously on stuff to give to the people we hold in high regard.
The act of giving is a virtuous one if it is done in the spirit of not expecting something in return. Giving in this manner is easier when the gift is for a child. We see the happy kid who opens her gift with anticipation. The joy is almost overwhelming. Such innocent gift giving is a manifestation of forgetting oneself and making time for other people. Such a scenario is the ideal.
Oftentimes, the reality is less than perfect. The child may have higher expectations about receiving a certain toy or device than we can afford. Or an adult on our list may interpret a gift as a symbol of how much love we feel towards her or him. There is a lot of entitlement and comparison going on.
So many of us give with a business-like expectation of receiving a gift of comparable or greater monetary value from the other person. It’s all about oneself and how much we can accumulate. There is much disappointment about the material gifts. That’s why the day after Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for clerks at the return and exchange desks of department stores. It’s so easy to become cynical about the act of gift-giving that we give gift certificates and gift cards. Somewhere along the line society has discarded the meaningful and stresses the acquisition part of the holiday season.
The gift giving and receiving season doesn’t have to be such a sordid affair. We can take a step back to ponder the bonds we have with family, friends, and society. We remember that those bonds are rarely a balanced algebraic equation. Gift giving is not meant to be business transactions with balance sheets and their obligatory debt and debit columns. Did he spend as much on me as I spent on him? If we contribute to our favorite charities, do we expect something back in return?
Our relationships are always in flux because change is the nature of the Universe. Familial and friendship relationships are not always about taking and giving equally. What they are is something more nuanced. The friendship is knowing who will be there for you when you need consolation or help and that you will be there for your friend when he has tough times. The relationship isn’t a tit for tat type of Karma.
Relationships are more or less abstract, spontaneous feelings of mutual generosity. It doesn’t have to be Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa to manifest. When we engage empathy and compassion when obtaining gifts for family and friends we remember that every adult was once a child. There remains, an inner child that lingers in the mind. The holidays and birthdays are good times to profoundly address your loved ones’ inner children, just as we would do in the case of actual children.
Every day, not just during the December holidays, we have plenty of opportunities to feel generous, joyful, and playful. What we are doing when we go with these positive emotions is to empower ourselves by enabling others to feel similar emotions. We share something good about ourselves and somehow this causes betterment in our own lives in some way.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from poet and writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. “You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”