One of the most challenging aspects of our relationships is gift-giving. Not just for holidays, but all year we’re faced with the prospect of choosing gifts for friends, loved ones or even someone that we might not have met.

All too often the need to come up with a gift can be a source of negative feelings. Despite all obstacles in our paths, we can strive to find gifts which will delight and help, as well as satisfy our social and personal obligations, by bringing a positive perspective into the act of gift-giving.

Right now, we have the additional challenges of a tightened economy. Many are unemployed or coping with decreased incomes. Even in the best of times, choosing gifts that speak positively can be a daunting hurdle. Gift-giving founded on positive principles may take a few extra steps past the quick answers found at the mall, but it’s easier than you might suspect.

You can take control, bringing the positive to bear on the situation. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll become the undisputed Monarch of Cool and Meaningful Gifts. With the application of a few positive principles, no one worth their salt will care—or possibly even notice— how much (or little) you spent.

Even so, be aware that there will be those who always know the price of everything and the value of nothing. ‘Do what you can, consider the source, and move on.’ This is a powerful mantra for positive gift-givers. The amount of money spent can have a variety of impacts, depending on the message the received along with the material object. Very often the volume generated by that message is much louder than the one generated by the amount of money spent.

How do you send a positive message?

The first step is to be sure that you and the recipient are on the same page. In order for someone to get the message you intend, you have to know how to say it in their language.  Good, positive communication is founded on knowledge.

Knowing what they like is important, but it’s equally important to understand that they may need to know something about you, and what you consider valuable. It’s also good to be aware that the message you intended may not be the interpretation received. Be prepared to explain, or write a note making clear your intention.

Your grandmother’s hand-embroidered pillowcase set may not fetch much on the open market, but to a young bride they could be priceless. A father’s key ring, carried through decades of family life, handed to your 16 year-old son about to drive off in his first car holds the potential to be an equally irreplaceable treasure. Likewise, the bagful of Spiderman-adorned items from the dollar store can make a six year old forget that he also got a Playstation, at least for a few minutes.

Talk to the recipient, or at least to someone who knows them very well. A little bit of detective work goes a long, long way. Assume nothing, even things that have “always worked in the past”. You never know who is allergic to chocolate or even something as everyday as scented soap. Nothing fails your goal worse than a gift that can’t be used or that would actually harm the recipient!

Whatever occasion confronts you, the opportunity exists to build bridges, send positive messages, and create the kind of world you want.  For a couple about to marry, a gift that reflects their mutual interests is a wonderful positive reinforcement to their decision for a life together. A family heirloom may be the perfect vehicle to carry the message “You’re now guardians of a precious heritage.”

Your message may be as simple as ‘I know what you like” or ‘I pay attention to what you say and do” to “I believe in you” or as complex as “I’m proud of you and I trust you”. Once you have decided on your message, the next step is finding an object that conveys that meaning in a way that will be understood.

The best gift anyone ever gave me

How do you stuff a complex concept like “I am proud of you and I trust you” into a stocking? Well, if you’re my Mom, and it’s the middle of the 1970’s recession which ground my parents’ small home-based business to an almost complete halt, you begin by knowing your children and what they prize.

When my little sister and I were very young, one of our favorite things to do was to sit in the middle of my parents’ bed and take out the contents of my mother’s jewelry box. One at a time, with great respect and care, we were permitted to hold the shining treasures.

There were few things of great monetary worth in the small cedar box. Still, to my sister and me, they were the treasures of the ages. My personal favorite was an old-fashioned necklace of my grandmother’s. It seemed to me the most beautiful and glamorous object in the world. Even more thrilling was the promise that our mother made. “When you grow up, it’s yours.” Over time, we ceased to play with the treasure box, but I never forgot Mom’s promise.

The year I was 16, the economy was bleak; I knew there was precious little money for presents. What would be under the tree? I had braced myself for the fact that no matter what was under the tree, it wouldn’t be anything big. When Mom handed me the small box, I was curious. I was expecting maybe a book or other such gift. I was going to be mature and gracious, no matter what it was. I had a stiff upper lip all ready to go.

Any need to be mature went up the chimney in a firestorm of excited joy and delight. What lay in that box wasn’t just my grandmother’s necklace, it was a message of the most positive sort, one that money couldn’t buy and no mall store carried. My mother, who knew me down to the core, was telling that I had stepped over the border into the realm of adulthood. To this day, it‘s still the best gift anyone ever gave me.

So when you go in search of a gift, large or small, whether for a major occasion or just a souvenir, remember the incredible power a positive approach can have. The impact can be priceless.

Photo by Jon Matthew