Giving gifts is easy...
You can just buy some chocolates, or flowers, or maybe a watch. Or you can take someone to lunch ...
... and Boom, happy person, and instant appreciation for your efforts.
Actually, if you've done this much, you have probably noticed that not everyone appreciates the same kinds of gifts in the same way.
And - beyond the gift itself - your intentions, timing, and the context in which you give the gift all have a huge impact on how the gift is received.
Good gift-giving is about much more than simply giving things & compliments, and chances are that you could be giving better gifts,
Here are some things to consider.
First, check your intentions
Say it with me...
Any gift you give is only truly a gift, when you expect nothing in return.
If you are giving a gift because you want something in return, even appreciation, you have already failed. A gift needs to be 100% about the person receiving it, and not about you.
Meditate on this, and learn how to practice true generosity. It will change your life, and your relationships.
In giving, WHY, WHEN, and HOW matter just as much as WHAT.
Now let's talk about what you can give, and a little bit about how.
Be creative- go beyond things & compliments
When we think of giving, most of us think of giving things, or money, but...
Some people love getting things, or being taken to lunch. But others would prefer a kind word or a compliment.
In fact, I believe there are five categories of gifts you can give, which correspond well to what is known as the five love languages.
In his book The 5 Love Languages, author Gary Chapman describes 5 key ways in which humans experience the feeling of love.
- Words of Affirmation. Someone says something nice to you, about you, or gives you a verbal or written compliment.
- Acts of Service. Someone does something for you, like washing the dishes.
- Receiving Gifts. Someone gives you something.
- Quality Time. Someone gives you their undivided time & attention.
- Physical Touch. Someone touches you (with your consent).
Most people are thought to have a primary and a secondary love language.
If you think about these deeply, you'll see the value they can add to your relationships and social connections....
Even your relationship with yourself.
One of my primary "love languages" is physical touch. It's no surprise then that I feel best after physical exercise, yoga, or dancing. One of the best gifts I treat myself to is an epic Thai massage. I feel great for days.
Let's look at how each of the five love languages can be applied to gift-giving,
Giving material gifts
The traditional "gift" concept. Material gifts do not need to be expensive, or even wrapped.
- a wrapped birthday present
- a single daisy you've plucked from the side of the road
- buying someone lunch
- buying someone a donut on the way to work
- making and giving a paper rose
- tickets to an event
The more you know the person and specifically what they like, the better gifts you can give. For some people, giving a gift that you've made is more meaningful.
Giving words of affirmation
Any time you communicate to someone something positive about themselves, you are giving words of affirmation. There are many ways;
- Give a compliment. Notice something significant and meaningful about someone, or how they affected you, and share that observation with them. This can be about how they look "Have you lost weight?" or dress "That shirt looks great on you." It can be about their personality "You seem very cheery today," or even their voice, "You know, you have one of the coolest voices I've ever heard."
- Give recognition. Recognize someone publically at work, or around others, for their skills & contribution. This is more about complimenting their behavior or their work, than complimenting them directly.
- Simply notice them. Simply making eye contact and smiling- showing that someone entered your world and caught your attention in a positive way, is a powerful type of affirmation.
Both spoken words, and written notes can be very powerful. Try both - and there are many forms of writing - a letter or email. A post-it note. A txt message. An airplane writing smoke in the sky.
Often, words of affirmation are amplified when others - especially that person's peers - are present.
When you are a man complimenting a woman, compliments about her physical form have a risk of coming across as sexual and therefore - when not wanted - "creepy." Unless you are intending to give a sexual compliment ( which has its place, and its own best delivery ), you can avoid this entirely - compliment her sense of style, her fashion, her voice, even her hair. Anything that isn't likely to be taken sexually.
Start there. Even if you're attracted to her, your attraction doesn't have to be the first thing you lead the interaction with. More advice on approaching women respectfully here.
Giving quality time
Quality time is about giving of yourself - giving a slice of your life to someone. That has immense value, so treat is at such.
The amount of time you give does not correspond to the value of that time. Attention is a much better measure. Two minutes of undistracted attention can be much more meaninful than two hours watching a movie together.
When practicing this, give your full, undivided attention. Practice good eye contact, active listening, and put your phone away.
Performing acts of service
Do something for someone. Again, this doesn't need to be a big investment - like helping someone move house - in order for it to be powerful.
- Wash the dishes
- Offer to help someone carry their groceries
- Help someone put their coat on
- Introduce someone to someone else you know, either as a prospective friend, business prospect, or even a romantic connection
I live next to a steep hill, in the student district of Auckland central. Every day, there are international students fighting to go up or down the hill with giant roller bags that probably outweigh them.
One of my favourite ways to practice connection is to offer to help. So far I've probably helped 20 people, 19 of whom have gratefully said "yes." I've met people from at least 5 different countries, practiced Chinese and Japanese, and even gotten phone numbers. It was fun for me, free exercise, and each time, they appreciated my gesture deeply.
Giving physical touch
Simple gestures such as a warm handshake or a pat on the back can be very powerful ways of expressing trust and appreciation towards someone.
Even standing near someone, walking with them, or direct eye contact - fall into this category.
For someone you have a close enough connection with, who is comfortable with this- a hug is very powerful.
When you know someone values physical touch, but you're not certain if they'd appreciate it from you, ask. "Can I give you a hug?" Or, buy them a nice shoulder massage.
A BIG FAT WORD OF CAUTION
Physical touch must be used very carefully, particularly from men towards women. Approach it like a high-explosive - lethally powerful -and in need of careful handling. If you choose to use it, remain hyper-aware at all times of her reactions so you can stop your approach as soon as you detect discomfort.
Where, when, & how - context matters
Imagine you're deeply in love. You've met the woman of your dreams. She is your equal, in every way, and deeply loves you as well. You've had an amazing ring crafted, just for her. Would you get down on one knee in a public toilet and ask for her hand in marriage?
My guess is no, because intuitively you already understand the importance of context.
Timing. Make sure they're available, and ready to enjoy a gift - both physically and emotionally.
Place. A powerful gift can evoke powerful emotions. Those memories will be even more special when you pay attention to the details, like the icing on a cake.
People. Should there be people around? If yes, then who, and why? In the same way that criticizing someone in front of people can be far more damaging, delivering some types of gifts can be far more powerful. Be mindful here- complimenting someone's work in front of their workmates is generally good. Asking someone to marry you on live TV may not be. Consider the pressure that having people around puts on them, and be respectful.
Hopefully you have some new ideas about gift-giving now.
Always approach your gift giving with a quick mental checklist-
- Why do I want to give a gift? Am I secretly expecting anything in return?
- What gift would be most meaningful to this person right now? Use the 5 love languages, and your knowledge of this person as a guide to figure out what's most meaningful to them.
- How, When & Where can I give that gift most meaningfully?
Make the gift personal to the receiver. What are their love languages? Values? Interests & hobbies?
Make the gift personal from you. What expresses you as well in this connection? Is it possible for you to make something unique and special that they will enjoy?
Have fun and explore, and let me know how you do!
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If you're interested in more about this, see some of Simon Sinek's work, such as Leaders Eat Last.