By Niki Glanz, Ed.D.
Did you receive that “perfect gift” over the holidays – the one that makes you smile, giggle, or close your eyes in rapture each time you think of it?
Let me guess: it wasn’t a sled. Your feelings of gratitude, however, may resemble Robert’s intensity, recalling this much-loved Christmas gift received decades ago:
We had one, good sliding hill in town: it wasn’t all that steep, but it was long. Every day in winter we boys went sliding. One year for Christmas, even though I hadn’t asked for it, I got a new sled with a sleek, rounded front and a bar you could turn practically at right angles. It also had springs, so if you belly whopped, your body wasn’t shocked when it hit the sled. I had been using my dad’s sled, and my dad’s sled was probably his dad’s sled. It was real stiff. That new sled is the only Christmas present that I remember getting as a child. (M2M, p. 155)
Deep-down gratitude: a never-to-be-forgotten feeling whether for that rare “perfect present” or for others we also appreciate. These gifts ooze utility – physical or sentimental – signifying a changed reality: “Oh, am I going to glow on Valentine’s. Just look at this dress!” or “A new used car! The ole junker gets to die at last. Wahoo!”
Another reason for appreciating a gift is what it represents: a close connection to whoever gives us the gift. If the person is someone we genuinely love, affirmation of our connection brings overwhelming happiness. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
In fact, any time we express gratitude our feelings of pleasure increase, often reducing stress or depression. If the above-mentioned new dress or car prompts us to change our behavior – for example, to line dance or volunteer for Meals on Wheels – our health may even improve. Exercise, socializing, and helping others all link with healthful boosts.
What about when we give? For most of us, the warm glow we feel from giving typically exceeds that of receiving. Believe it or not, the happiness generated by giving to the same people in the same ways doesn’t fade as quickly as do positive feelings of gratitude. Nor does the amount we give seem to matter. Research confirms: it’s better to give than receive. Material gifts aren’t even necessary, as Elise’s memories demonstrate:
Holidays were always a scramble because my parents were divorced. Our Christmas could be anywhere in the month of December to January – who knew? The tradition was about cherishing family bonds; our grandparents were very close to us and would come down. Even to this day, my sister or I – it has never worked out that it can be both of us – go and pick out the Christmas tree with my mom and stepfather. Then my sister, and I, and my mom decorate my mom’s tree together, just like we used to. It always has those memento ornaments that we made as children. They’re hodge-podge with toothless pictures and hideous colors, but they were our pride and joy when we were four years old. (M2M, p. 51)
This holiday scenario, faithfully repeated each year, has enabled Elise to give of herself by joyfully participating in her mom’s Christmas, while also celebrating with her husband and two young sons.
Giving simply makes us feel good. It lights up regions of our brains that are associated with happiness. Like feelings of gratitude, giving is associated with bolstering social ties. Also like gratitude, it often confers health benefits, even for those with serious diseases.
So, what are we saying when we wish one another “Happy Holidays”? The “holidays” have evolved over the millennia from a combination of secular and religious traditions, long thought to be opposing forces. Now science reveals that spiritual/emotional benefits, including a boost in pleasure and enhanced relationships, and physical benefits emanating from the gift, itself, plus perhaps better health, instead may mingle. Material and spiritual together: a happy conclusion to our 2019 holidays. Now, let’s celebrate 2020!
We find bits of ourselves in others’ memories, here exemplified by Robert and Elise. You’ll find more memories that matter in the 59 deeply diverse, true stories recorded in Memories to Momentum by Niki Glanz, Ed.D. Available from Amazon in Paperback or eBook. Enjoy!