Leaning back in my black leather desk chair beginning to question my mental health, I sat in my high rise Houston office on the day after Christmas and began to roughly estimate how much money I had actually spent on gifts for my immediate family members and their kids this holiday season.
This was followed by some mulling over the semi-insulting, yet highly predictable fact that I received nothing more from these 20 or so people than a single Target gift card, via a text message, a mass Christmas card and kind gift from my mother after I woke up at 4am to take her to the airport so she could spend Christmas with her kids who have children.
I smiled, raised my eyebrows in awe, took a breath in and held it and then looked around the room like a lunatic as if needing a standup club audience to confirm how ridiculously imbalanced this was!
“I mean seriously, what is the deal with these people?!”
Opening my email inbox I gave the situation a solid eye roll and shook my head, jokingly asking myself why I even bothered sending gifts to my parents and my siblings’ families anyway: “You are truly, such an idiot. You’re essentially estranged family got you again. They haven’t come to visit you in at least 5 years. You get your hopes up every Christmas and they always forget you. Next year, it would be wise to save your money and just not bother.”
A totally disappointing thought stream considering I love giving and my family.
But then, in all my sarcasm and self-pity my mindfulness woke up and got a bit excited, “Wait, why am I spending so much money sending these people gifts?”
I felt meditative wrestling match was coming on. Can’t say I was looking forward to finding out what the root of this one was. But my mind was about to go there whether I liked it or not.
“Why send presents?” Well because we live far away from each other and I have the means to send things so I like to do so to make these people happy. “But why pricey things, why not spend on them what they spend on you? Why not just send a card?” Hm.
When I receive a Christmas card I think it’s nice and appreciate the thought. However I know that like the cards I receive, any card I send will just get mindlessly thrown onto a shelf or card wreath and then discarded and forgotten at the end of the season.
“What’s wrong with them just knowing you thought of them and then having your card tossed out?” I guess when I receive a card it feels rather mass produced and robotic and thoughtless to be honest. Hell, call me insecure but some are even so soiled in narcissism they can be quite inconsiderate of single women.
So I guess that means that giving more means I care more and perhaps, maybe, if I give well enough I’ll be appreciated, and remembered, and thought of instead of being tossed out and forgotten like a Christmas card.
I mean in an ideal world we all just want others to validate our existence, right? I honestly could care less about receiving material objects in return.
And so then, we’ve arrived.
Diagnosis: Craving Appreciation.
I’m sure the root goes even deeper but the explanation isn’t really necessary, is it?
All I need to know is that I need to let go of relying on the attention of my blood relatives to make myself feel like I matter at Christmas time. And it’s extremely important to note that the issue here isn’t with the family members. It’s psychologically an issue with me, if anything.
They are all great people whom I love dearly. But the truth is simply that my siblings and father have their own families now and we don’t all have disposable incomes or even time enough to get things into the post. Nothing personal.
My eastern philosophy teachings tell me to meditate on the big picture: on gratitude for the warm, loving friends I have near to me; on gratitude for the opportunity to work with loneliness intimately and grow as a person. And don’t get me wrong, I do.
Yet these amazing friends who invite me to join them for Christmas already have families too and it’s easy to slip into the trap of feeling like I don’t quite belong—I sit and watch them tear open wrapping paper on a pile of presents while I slowly and graciously unwrap the petite gesture they threw into a bag for me so that I would feel “included.”
Needless to say, all of this made me very mindful of those who have less, especially those without families nearby.
Ultimately I realized there was one relative I didn’t send a gift to that I should have.
There is an aunt in my family who must have the same gene as me. She has an upper level education, works in science, is unmarried, she never had kids and she spent the holidays traveling around Europe on her own.
She’s actually kind of fabulous, now that I think about it. I’m not sure why I didn’t get her anything. Maybe subconsciously Christmas is just associated with families or children or something for all of us. Or maybe I thought she wouldn’t be into that kind of thing.
But I feel like whatever the answer is, it’s probably the same reason my family doesn’t send an overabundance of Christmas effort in my direction either.
I decided in the end that next year that aunt is going to be at the top of my list and I will be sure she has something to unwrap on Christmas day. My friends will continue to receive the royal treatment as they are in essence my true family now; there for me day and night, 24/7, even when I am having a Christmas pity party.
And I think the blood relatives will be getting Christmas cards after all, perhaps complete with a dried leaf from my favorite tree at the park where I like to watch the sunset, maybe even a handwritten thank you note from a child in need who received a donation in their honor.
Mother Theresa said the problem with the world is that we draw our family circles too small. I have to agree with her and add that while giving is better than receiving, giving to those who receive with sincere appreciation for the giver, is likely the most fulfilling gift of all.
Want 15 free additional reads weekly, just our best?
Assistant Editor: Paige Vignola/Editor: Bryonie Wise