Let’s talk about one whopping source of holiday stress: gifts. 

You will notice some people try to use money to compensate for a lack of time, thoughtfulness, attention, or love. That’s like trying to substitute sugar for protein in your diet! This overcompensation is often most obvious at the holidays.

But I don’t think people do this intentionally. Rather, I think the advertising world teaches us that monetary value translates to emotional value. But this is seldom true. While spending money is easy, only emotionally-attuned people can give a truly meaningful gift. And while most of us would enjoy receiving a fancy new car – or an expensive set of fancy golf clubs or whatever other exciting material objects we are into – if these are gifted without love, they will never be more than simply “things.”  Plus, as every research study reminds us, once our basic needs such as housing, food, security, and health are met, our emotional needs are more important to us than material things.

I remember many years ago, lying alone in my marital bed while my husband was either at work or traveling or wherever. I was there fidgeting with my beautiful diamond ring, in our big fancy house, thinking that even if I withdrew all the cash from my bank account and slept with it all around me, none of it was ever going to make me feel loved, appreciated, comforted, or happy.  That’s not to say money doesn’t have its benefits – only that it isn’t ever a substitute for loving connection. And when given the choice between the two, long term? Most people prefer the latter. 

Thus, I’m a firm believer in “it’s the thought that counts” when it comes to gift giving. And if the thought is only to check an item off your to-do list, your gift will likely be received with equal warmth… or lack thereof. Which is why receiving a thoughtful but low-cost gift can put a huge smile on someone’s face, and an expensive gift from the jeweler down the street might result in a half-hearted “Oh, this is beautiful. Thank you.” It’s not that the item isn’t gorgeous, it’s just that the one receiving it feels like an obligation, a checkbox ticked off at the last minute.  We don’t want to be just another gift required by our beloved, we want to feel important. We want to feel valued and prioritized. We want to feel well loved.

So this year, I urge you to give generously to your loved ones – from your heart, not just your wallet. Put love, thought, and effort into it. 

Here are three ideas to spark your imagination and get you started: 

  1. Shared Surprises: Give a memory. Give an experience! This can mean seeing your partner’s favorite band in concert, going to the theater, bringing one of their fantasies to life, planning a picnic in the snow, or whatever kind of thing they would enjoy! If they’ve expressed wanting to try a new skill, sport, or activity, you could sign up for an intro class with them. Sprinkle a little of your own personal magic and make it as elaborate as you can, with options and details such as: a beautiful invitation created by hand or computer, special new outfits for you both to wear, free time to get ready for the experience, an overnight stay in a meaningful hotel or resort, trivia about the history surrounding the location/event/etc…  Build up their anticipation by sharing how much you are looking forward to spending time with them. Afterward, include a memento to amplify the gift’s impact and provide reminders of your love – and of the activity you shared together – for years to come.
  2. Pastime Perks: Indulge one of their passions. If your partner enjoys lounging around in a bubble bath, give them new bath products, candles, bath tray, fabulous robe to wear afterwards, a new book to read or music to listen to, and especially the time away from reality to indulge freely. If their passion is football, get tickets to their favorite team or just host a tailgate party in your driveway for a fun celebration. Get matching jerseys or t-shirts, or a new thermos with the logo of their team. Show you not only notice but support their interests.
  3. Wonderful Words: If budget is really limited, don’t despair!  Write a love note from your heart, or find a poem that expresses your sentiments well. Frame it nicely, or make your own DIY craft project with it – like calligraphy on a wood plaque. Love doesn’t require bucks; your efforts won’t cost you a dime. 

The key to each of these is to wrap each of them with love. Plan the gift from your heart and give it with excitement, knowing it’s created just for your beloved’s pleasure. Banish anxious jitters and think only of how the smile lighting up their face will light up your heart as well. When we give it freely, we get back even more.  

Gifts matter.  For better or worse.  Make them meaningful. ☺️