Recently I had a delightful email exchange with Patty Carter Lin, a member of the Simply Celebrate community. Patty told me that she truly enjoys giving creative, heartfelt gifts to people she loves. But she was in a situation in which she felt an obligation to give a gift. And it just didn’t feel good.
I was inspired by our conversation and asked Patty if she’d be willing to write something up that I could share on my blog.
I’d love to hear from more of you about how you feel about obligatory gifts. Are there holidays or occasions on which you feel you “have” to give gifts? Have you ever changed your gift giving behavior when it comes to obligations? How’d it go?
After you read Patty’s piece, please comment with your own thoughts; I’d love to hear!
Guest Post by Patty Carter Lin….
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a birthday party for my friend’s daughter, who’s turning four. I was excited about the prospect of seeing my friend because we lost touch ever since he and his wife had a baby. But then I realized I had no idea what to give his little girl—I’ve only met her once. I like to give meaningful gifts, and I have no problem coming up with these for close friends and family. But what about people I don’t know well, but feel like I have to give a gift to?
This question prompted me to look at my feelings of obligation around gift giving. Truth was, I had a huge amount of resistance to giving this child a gift just because “it’s what you do.” But every time I thought about not bringing a gift, this set off a cacophony of voices in my head screaming, “What kind of monster doesn’t give a four-year-old a birthday present? What did this poor innocent child ever do to you?”
It’s no wonder, with that kind of internal browbeating, that I would feel annoyance—even rage—at the “rules” around gift giving.
It’s also easy to see where this social and cultural conditioning comes from. My whole life, I watched my mother grappling with the same issue. Once, she told me she didn’t want to visit our relatives in Taiwan because she’d have to spend months buying everyone gifts beforehand. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t want her to stress out about this—and they certainly wouldn’t want her to not come visit! Alas, my encouragement to “give the gift of your presence” fell on deaf ears.
Likewise, every year without fail, I would give my best friend a birthday gift. One year when I was too busy to get her something, I apologized profusely and she said, “I figured we’d only give each other gifts when we felt inspired.” That was the greatest gift she ever gave me. We still give each other gifts, but I never feel obligated. Being let off the hook allows me to experience an authentic desire to give.
As for the four-year-old’s birthday party, this incident has taught me to use resistance to gift giving as a signal. Resistance usually means there’s a feeling of obligation lurking. When I asked myself why I said yes, the answer was: I want to reconnect with my friend. But do I need to do that at a kids’ party, where he’ll be too busy cutting cake and making sure no one throws up in the bouncy house to spend quality time with me? Not my scene. So I declined the invitation and made plans to see my friend some other time.
I’m not saying I’ve found the answer to the obligatory gift giving dilemma. At some point, I’ll have to give a gift to someone I don’t know well. But when that day comes, I’ll do my best to bring consciousness to the process. That’s the best any of us can do.
Here’s to inspired gift giving,
Patty lives in Los Angeles, California, and loves to give meaningful gifts when they’re from the heart.”
P.S. If you’re reading this via email, click here to comment. I realize that not everyone is on Facebook and I apologize for the FB-only comments. The blog was getting spammed left and right and this solved that problem for the moment. Until I figure out something else, if you aren’t on FB and want to comment, simply email me your comment and I’ll post it for all to see and appreciate!