This time of year – the holidays – always seem to bring up so many things for so many people. Everywhere we turn, we hear messages of peace and love and goodwill to all of humankind. Houses are decorated with lights and tinsel. People tend to be in a giving kind of mood. Everything seems to sparkle.
And then you try to find a parking space at the mall. Need I say more?
As much as we want our holiday season to be filled with joy, the reality is that it is often filled with stress or anxiety. Or even pain. We have to negotiate the complications of family expectations, figure out what to get for that uncle that we love but – if we're honest – we really don't know that well, make sure that our loved ones get what they want, all the while distracting ourselves from the concerns about how we're actually going to pay for it all when we're done.
The holidays always make me wonder about what it is that we really want. Sharing gifts as a way to tell someone that you're thinking about them is great - even with the stress of trying to weave through hoards of fellow Christmas shoppers to get them. In fact, the gifts that we give and the other ways that we show love to each other all contain hints about what those things might be.
There is a researcher name Sue Johnson, who does a lot of work in understanding our most basic drives towards love and relationships. When you really sit down to talk with someone, you pretty quickly find the things that Johnson has to say absolutely seems to be true.
Basically, she says that there are three gifts – things that we long to hear – that we want to receive from the people that we most care about.
"I'm Here for You"
First, we want to know that the people we care about are there for us. They're available. Better than any gift we can receive from them, we want to know that our loved ones are present. We don't have to work hard to find them. When they're not – when we have to jump through hoops or make a lot of effort to get to them – we can feel lonely. Sometimes, we can feel abandoned. This is not something ANYONE likes to feel. We're social animals, we like to know that our tribe is nearby. It speaks of safety. It lets us know that we are accepted. It tells us that we really do matter.
It sounds cliché, I know, but one of the greatest gifts that you can give the people you care about is your presence!
"You Can Depend On Me"
If having our loved one's near by is the stocking stuffer, then knowing that they are dependable is the first gift we want to unwrap under the tree. We all have needs and wants. When we have loved ones on whom we can depend, we have the security of knowing that they can help to meet those needs – that we won't go on feeling incomplete. It speaks about more than just presence; it also tells us that the fact that we need things from our loved ones is OK. We matter, but we also are worthy of love and connection. When we need them the most, we want to know that our loved ones will be there, ready and willing to help.
"I Want to Be With You"
Our loved ones – all of us – are free to do whatever we want. We can spend our time any way that we choose. When we hear from our loved ones that they want to be with us, one of the messages we receive is that they are choosing us. It's not a chore. It's important to us know that spending time with us is not a chore or a drain. We want to feel that there is an energy that emerges when we are with the ones that we love. Not only do we matter. Not only are we worthy. Being together is fun and exciting. It is enjoyable. It is life-giving.
When we hear these messages our partners or our children, they reinforce that we are loved. Ultimately, that is what we really want. We want to be loved. More than any physical gift that we can receive, we want to be loved, and wanted, and to feel part of something.
When we have those things, the other gifts that we might receive are icing on the cake. The crowds, the traffic, the stresses all seem a little more manageable.