Christmas is a time for giving presents, and that’s a blog post in itself, as we consider the joy of giving, the pleasure of receiving and the ways we can improve others’ lives by giving things that matter most to them. I like to give books, and that’s another blog post again, as I could mention the great books I’ve given and the wonderful ones I received over the festive period.
It’s more blessed to give than to receive, apparently, according to The Bible. (Acts 20:35). Charity is not just for Christmas; food banks need constant donations and so many people need practical and financial support. I joined in with Planet Rock’s campaign to give children presents for Christmas, which was a great initiative. It worries me though that this is a one-off, and they’ll still need support for the days that follow. And all this sets me thinking about how important it is to give to a source where the neediest people benefit directly, quickly and often.
Philosophically, giving feels good because we enjoy seeing the delight on the faces of the recipients; we enjoy hugs and the clamour of friendship and love that follows. The act of giving stimulates activity in the reward regions of the brain, such as an increase in dopamine (the neurotransmitter involved in motivation and pleasure). Giving feels good and it makes us feel socially connected to others. It offers us an opportunity to show others we care and the act of picking out presents is a personal thing in which we try to gauge things that will make others happy. As my other half will tell you, some of us are better at choosing appropriate and thoughtful gifts; others have less imagination, and although the desire is there, it can be very difficult to choose the right gifts. A gift is just that, a kind thought, there should never be success and failure attached to it…
Friends of mine increasingly give ‘experiences’ rather than gifts. The idea is that they don’t need more ‘stuff’. But shared enjoyment of a day out, a holiday, a visit to somewhere interesting is a joy that can’t be replicated in a box of chocolates or a box of perfume.
We often give charity gifts: adopting an animal or a subscription to WWF, vaccines for children, buying a bog or mosquito nets. There’s a double pleasure with such gifts, as the receiver is not the only one to benefit, and it’s nice to give something in someone else’s name. Giving doesn’t have to be expensive: it costs nothing to help out at a homeless centre, to collect money in the street or to take calls for a charity helpline. And it’s often a great way to meet interesting people.
I always come back to the comment my mother made to me when I was a youngster: the greatest gift a parent can give their child is their time. Time is such a wonderful gift and it’s something I need to focus on more. The world is always busy; there’s work, people to see, appointments to be attended, jobs to do around the house. There are people whom I know I don’t spend enough quality time with, and it’s not because I don’t really enjoy their company, I do. It’s just that I think I’m too busy. A week will go by, and I haven’t had time to say hi to a neighbour. Months will pass, and I haven’t visited a beloved relative or friend. It’s really not good enough – I’d enjoy their company far more than I’d enjoy visiting the supermarket or the recycling centre, or cleaning out the bathroom. That stuff can wait: people come first.
Time is, as the cliché says, of the essence and I want to make people, not things, my priority. Phone calls, face time, mealtimes are quality times, much more rewarding than checking social media, and I’m guilty of doing both simultaneously, not giving someone my full attention, which is not right. The gift of time is priceless – when it’s gone, it’s gone, and we can’t get those precious moments back. So yes, there’s a gift I need to prioritise too in the coming months.
American poet Carl Sandburg said, ‘Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.’
He has a point.