The early days of a new year are my designated time for cleaning up, cleaning out, consolidating, and turning my attention to what I’ve been missing. I often find valuable nuggets amid the rubble of my office that I can use to direct me toward the next waypoint on my journey.
Amid this year’s stacks of papers and stupefying collection of random stuff* that somehow ended up in my office, I find two gifts.
The first is smaller than my computer mouse and wrapped in purple paper. I remember watching the store clerk (possibly at Kripalu) wrapping it, but can no longer recall what is inside or who I intended to give it to.
The other gift creates a different dilemma. It’s a bag of chocolates that I received in 2016 and never opened. I realize this only after I send a lovely thank-you email to the person who gave it to me, thinking it was a gift from this Christmas. Needless to say, Jenny was a little confused about my expression of gratitude—and we both wrote off the mistake as a side effect of midlife memory loss.
But, in fact, it was much more than that.
You see, I seem to have some kind of clinical blind spot about gifts—I like to buy them, but often get cold feet about actually giving them. And, while I like to receive them, I often don’t actually unbox or use them for a long time (if at all), and have even been known to leave them unwrapped.
Let’s just say this was not the first time that I was able to place this year’s Christmas gifts next to last year’s as they sat new in their boxes, stacked neatly for 12 months in the far corner of my office.
As I write this, both of these “gifts” still sit there in limbo—gifts in name only, since one was never given and the others, not really received.
Before you jump to the conclusion that this makes no sense (with which I would wholeheartedly concur), take a minute to consider the thought that dawns on me as I look at these artifacts.
Are these abandoned gifts signs of something deeper? Maybe I (and maybe you, too) have other “gifts” that have been hoarded or unappreciated.
What gifts do we have in our lives that are similarly ferreted away—ensconced in some kind of veil that keeps us from knowing what’s inside us?
Are there character strengths, talents, skills that we have developed that we’ve kept to ourselves? Do you have resources, ideas, or support that are available to be given freely, but something is keeping you from doing so? What do we have that can help someone else?
Or, conversely, are there gifts that we have failed to appreciate the way these kids have?
Are we ripping open our wrapping with gratitude and embracing all our gifts? Is there something inside us that we’ve declined to receive or to fully integrate with who we are as a person? Do you sit there, like I have, and look right past what’s been there all along?
Are people trying to reach out to you? Are you enjoying, embracing, and enhancing your life with the compassion and joy that life is offering you?
Is love being offered? Forgiveness? Empathy? Collaboration? Are you too set in your ways at work to be inclusive of others who can help? Are you too proud to let people share their resources and unique contributions with you? What are you refusing?
At work, do you really take the effort to find out what you and your colleagues can contribute beyond what you’ve been allowed to do?
At home, could you be a tiny bit more vulnerable, and more deeply appreciate what your family is giving you now? Or are you stuck measuring your loved ones solely by what you want them to be in the future?
For it is truly better to give and receive.
May this new year of 2018 be the time we share more of the gifts we have for others, and appreciate and accept the abundance that is right in front of us.
I’ll start by tasting these chocolate caramels. It’s never too late for that.
*For the record, this heap included a lost flathead screwdriver (whose replacement I bought just last week), a set of puzzle books, a Buddhist coloring book, mulling spice kits, a magnetic refrigerator clip, sunglasses, a $30 Justice coupon, an old iPad, a new Amazon Fire, automobile repair receipts, ticket stubs, four courtside seats to upcoming 76ers games, a hand-strengthening gadget, two and a half phone chargers, an old credit card, a camera, reader glasses, and a bottle of Icelandic water.
This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology. For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.