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In many cultures this is a time of the year when gifts are given to family, friends, colleagues, and others. The tradition generates feelings of generosity and gratitude, but it also can feel like a burden and obligation. During an already busy and pressure-filled time, we find ourselves stretching budgets, pressing for time, and searching our brains for gift ideas.

Unfortunately, gift giving under these conditions can risk us missing the value of gifts given freely and thoughtfully with the gift receiver in mind. Gift giving should not feel like an obligation. Gifts that matter most, regardless of the time of year or tradition, come from our hearts filled with the joy and happiness of the receiver in mind.

 

In fact, some of the most precious gifts we can give aren’t tangible objects or expensive selections. The gifts that matter most often cost the least and are given without expectation or obligation. Here are six gifts we can offer now or at any time of the year that communicate our caring, demonstrate our generosity, and cost us nothing. Most important, they can be priceless to those who receive them.

 

The first gift is our simple, attentive listening. Listening communicates respect and value. Our willingness to be still and really listen to others offers a precious gift to those who need to be heard and want to be understood. We don’t have to have all the answers. We may have no solutions to offer, but our willingness to give our time, dedicate our attention, and care matters more than we know.

 

A second gift is our willingness to accept others without pre-conditions and expectations. Our society, our communities, our schools, and even our families are becoming more diverse. People who see life differently from us, whose lifestyles may be different from ours, and whose goals are not goals we would choose to pursue still deserve to be accepted for who they are. Yet, they often face barriers, discrimination, and pressures to conform that is debilitating. Our willingness to accept and value those who may not be exactly like us is a welcome gift and gives reassurance of their inherent value as a person.

 

The third gift is our willingness to offer encouragement and give support to those who may be struggling and need someone who believes in them and wants them to succeed. However, our encouragement needs to be authentically offered and our support genuinely extended. Often just knowing that we’re confident in them and their potential to succeed is enough to encourage them through their struggle and to get them to move forward.

 

A fourth gift is to reach out and lend a hand without expectations or obligations. Our willingness to give our energy, insight, skills, and time can be a relief-giving gift when someone feels overwhelmed, inadequate, and alone. We may not see our assistance as special or unusual, but when offered at just the right time, freely given, and obligation-free our offer of assistance can be a burden lifting and much appreciated gift.

 

The fifth gift is our willingness to forgive, let go of past grievances, and restore relationships. Disappointment, resentment, and separation result in heavy burdens for those who harbor these feelings and for those who are the object of them. The feelings may have roots in legitimate grievances. Past actions may have caused hurt. However, hurt feelings and grievances rarely maintain any value over time. Deciding to forgive, let go, and restore relationships that matter to us create valuable, life-lifting gifts.

 

The sixth gift may be simplest, yet it can make an outsized difference. That gift is a smile. A genuine smile assures others we see and notice them. A smile offers hope and communicates caring. It’s difficult to ignore a bright and friendly smile. A smile brightens the day. It‘s said that “If we meet someone too worried or distressed to give us a smile, we should leave one of ours. For no one needs a smile quite as much as someone who has none to give.”

 

Of course, these gifts also offer special value to us as their givers. Each of these gifts enrich our lives, make us more optimistic, and leave us feeling happier.

Thought for the Week

Academic identity can be a driver or impediment to a student’s success in school.

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