Thursday, July 26, 2012

The thought that counts

It all started when we wanted to create a meaningful gift for a friend. So we contacted her friends and asked: what is it about her you love so much? And they told us: scores of beautiful messages, heartfelt words, and quirky in-jokes. It gave us goosebumps. We married each comment to an image, and made them into a hardback book. When we gave her the book, she read it, then she smiled, and then she cried. She hadn’t realised how much she was loved. Few of us do.

Her friends loved the gift too, we’d provided them with an opportunity to truly tell her how much she meant to them. It was as if we had just given them all permission to say something heartfelt, something none of us tend to do that often.

We had created a social gift, where messages of appreciation didn’t just accompany the gift, they were the gift. And because everyone knew each other, the gleambook was enjoyed by our shared world of mutual friends almost as much as the lucky recipient herself.

We had discovered that messages alone can be meaningful gifts. Often, when people choose a gift, they try to use it to send a message, a cypher to try to reveal what they feel: “I love you!” or “You’re unique!”

But our gifts can not talk. So we buy something expensive and hope it conveys the right messages. Or if we’re busy or too exasperated to choose something ourselves, we just convert our love into money, and send a gift voucher instead.

How did we end up expressing our love through money?
Why do we try to send messages through objects rather than expressing how we really feel?
Are our words really that worthless? After all, what could be nicer than accidentally overhearing someone say something lovely about you?

Appreciation, a sense of belonging, is a basic human need. It makes us feel good, it reinforces our social bonds, it makes us feel accepted and part of the tribe. Without it, we feel ostracised, ignored, and lonely.

Our culture has even invented a medium to convey our appreciation - the greetings card. So why is a humble handwritten card not the most treasured gift one can receive? We do we spend so lavishly on products to demonstrate our affection?

Have we come to associate money with affection? Do we fear that if we don’t spend, the recipient will think we don’t really care?

Or is it because senders of greetings cards rarely open their hearts to express how they really feel? Instead they quickly scribble what they believe they’re expected to write; like a safe message wishing the recipient a lovely birthday, that they’re thinking about them, and they love them lots. What goes unsaid is why they love them, what makes them so unique, and why they absolutely treasure the time they share together.

We should tell those close to us how we feel, whilst we still can. Friends can drift apart, family members can move far away, and sudden tragedies can silence any one of us. What record will there be of the journey you shared?

Does your loved one really need one more piece of stuff?
Or would you rather tell them what makes them so special, and see them gleam?

How much better to give the gift of feeling good.