Simple Gifts To Give

One of the most popular posts here at the blog has been a series on simple gifts that you can give yourself, many of which were free and little things to uplift your soul. Then there was interest in the flip side, what about simple gifts to give someone else? Combing through numerous sources, jotting down enlightening conversations with those in their 80's and studies into happiness, here are a few:

Increase your own happiness levels. While this might sound purely self serving its been fascinating to read findings that people may have the ability to make others happier through their own personal happiness. As if it was contagious. Those who have happy connections are said to be happier themselves! This can even extend to strangers and people who have little to no contact with you. The only caveat is that your own happiness seems to spread the most through contact in person, face to face.

Giving a gift and trying to make someone happy are usually synonymous with one another. It's our main goal but these findings beg the question of how much of us, our personal happiness is attached to these gifts? How much can this heighten any gift we choose to give? For more here is a piece by Nyomi Graef which really sums up the findings.

As for heightening our own personal happiness levels there are so many books, sites and takes on the subject. Some of my personal favorites are the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and anything by Martha Beck. Simply connecting with other satisfied, optimistic, kind and overall cheerful people is said to be a plum way to raise your own levels.

Unconditional acceptance. This can be something incredibly fleeting at the moment but at the same time so very treasured and needed. Especially with so much media and advertisement taking a negative, critical approach to our daily lives and questioning if any of us will ever be good enough and measure up. How many of us have someone (other than a dog!) who says I like you just as you are. They understand humanity and that there is good in uniqueness, life is not always perfect and that in the scheme of things, that's OK. Unconditional acceptance (provided no one is in any sort of danger) is one of the best gifts ever and also has a way of aiding in picking out the perfect physical gifts as well.

“The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance.” -Brian Tracy

Listening and being a confidant. Every time one of those biography shows come on some of the most interesting information always seems to come from the confidant. In fact the confidant always appears to be something of an icon, a jewel in the persons life. This is what made me realise what a gift this can be to anyone.

This has gone on for eons but now research from a few years ago (via the American Sociological Review) has turned up troubling information that, at the time, around 25% of people reported they didn't have any confidants in their lives at all. This was double what it was in the 80's and 70's. It makes one wounder if all the cases of people venting about their jobs or coworkers on sites such as Facebook and then getting fired could have been avoided if they had 1 or 2 trusted people to talk with instead?

Being someone who listens, tries to help if possible and just allows someone to vent without that person fearing it will be revealed to others behind their backs can be an incredible gift to give. Not to mention something seemingly badly needed nowadays.

Write a letter or thank you card. Did you ever thank the teacher or mentor that ended up being so instrumental in your life? Did someone give you a really incredible gift? Is there a loved one or someone you know who has been moved to a hospital or nursing home and does not have access (or the know how) to use the internet? One of the main things people in nursing homes and in the military would tell me they would love so much was a simple handwritten letter or card. They said it would mean so much. (a little care package is wonderful too).

"One of the ironies for me is that everyone talks about electronic media bringing people closer together, and I think this is a way we wind up more separate. We don't have the intimacy that we have when we go to the attic and read grandma's letters." -Aaron Sachs, a professor of American Studies and History at Cornell University

For more see my past post on writing letters to grandchildren and favorite books on letter writing in general. For love letters, see here.

An autograph
. This idea comes from amazing gifts I've personally received and editor Franca Sozzani. Do you know someone who is a veracious reader or is passionate about a certain series or author? Taking one of their books to a book singing and having it signed can be an amazing (and free!) gift or, buying a brand new copy to be signed, a rather inexpensive (probably under $30.) keepsake to be treasured for a lifetime.

A plant or fresh flowers. Sounds funny but plants and flowers have served me well and remain a simple, go to gift. This has included healing Aloe Vera plants, seeds that grew into surprising flowers and herbs the recipient (and I) never encountered before and bouquets of perfumed roses and wild flowers. Flowers pop up a lot here both fresh and dried because it's not hard to poke around and find something pretty (most end up being free). There has even been research that sleeping with fresh, sweet scented flowers about causes better sleep and dreams.

Be on time and keep promises. It turns out, sadly, that not all friendships are created equal. Researchers and social scientists found that friends that are flaky and constantly unreliable can end up having a negative, stressful impact on other peoples lives. Being the rock who does what they can to be there for others might actually help your friends and loved ones to live longer. That's a pretty good gift! In many cases people who flake out do so because they have issues with saying no. For more see a previous post here.

Telling someone no ASAP can afford the person more time to remedy their situation through some other means. Of course anyone who truly cares about you is not going to drop you as a friend (or potential friend) because you are honest and unable to help... and if they do, do you really want them in your life? No can be a powerful litmus test.

Get together in person and support people. As mentioned above more and more research is coming out that doing things in person, together or just visiting each other is extremely important to the happiness of both ourselves and others. This is also something people from bygone eras stressed to me was of high importance in their lives. From playing bridge and domino's to traveling together with friends, visiting relatives who lived far away, going on hiking and fishing trips, and just bolstering others to try new things.

Sometimes people really want to try new activities but they do not want to go alone. Especially for things that require a partner such as dancing or tennis. Even if someone was not personally interested in the activity themselves, they said they did it to support their friends and in some cases found a new passion.

Quite often it feels as if so much emphasis today is placed on concentrating on ones own goals, what one hopes to acquire next and accomplish in order to be successful in life. Very little time seems left to selflessly support the dreams of others. To this I really find Seth Godin's words to ring true, "Happiness' friend is kindness" & "Success' friend is generosity". Some of the most genuinely successful people in life are also repeatedly described as being incredibly generous and kind to others, even when they do not have to be.

"Compliments are a beautiful, free gift" -Jan Chozen Bays, MD author of WildElephants and Other Adventures in Mindfulness

Hold a movie marathon party. This is one of my most favorite, favorite gifts! There have been a few posts done here on them here and here, but they're deceptively easy to pull together. They can fall on certain holidays, a birthday (such as your own!) and they can span all night in classic marathon style. You can wait for a marathon to come on TV (Twighlight Zone, Mr. Bean, Jane Austen) or you can rent, for free, a whole bunch of DVD's from your local library. Netflix them or stream them from your iphone / ipod. YouTube and hulu has full movies and numerous old series. Make tons of popcorn, turn it into a potluck or a dessert tasting. Add music, projectors and weird lights for a Warhol themed movie bash. Possibilities are endless and much of it can be done for free.

Donate money on someones behalf. Has someone specifically mentioned that they wish they could support a certain cause or wanted to donate to disaster relief but just do not have the extra money to do so? This can be your chance to give an incredible gift. There are so many sites now that allow you to give what is essentially a gift card that your recipient can then use to donate to their cause of choice. Another way to do this is to give a gift that gives twice (by giving back proceeds to certain causes that are of the utmost importance to your friend). For ones posted here see the Give Twice gift guides section. Some of my personal favorites are FEED bags and TOMS shoes.

Create a custom tea or coffee blend. For a recipe and how-to see here. It's really easy to create a blend based on what flavors someone else enjoys. Green tea for instance can be blended with dried honeysuckle flowers, rose hips or pieces of dried fruit. Coffee can be blended with extracts of vanilla, almond or powdered dark chocolate. For more DIY gift ideas see click here.

Be a really good, loving friend. This is something I think anyone can do and the rewards are huge, not only to the recipient but to you as well. More and more is being written about the benefits of loving friendships and connection... how it can actually help people live longer, healthier, happier lives. It's about something fleeting, true empathy.

"... For, even if you fail to make it as accurately as you may have wanted, the effort will be noted. The actual accuracy is somewhat beside the point. What matters is that you try to make the shift from your own mindset to someone else’s, that you make the effort to think about what present would be best suited to another person. It’s a generosity that presupposes generosity of time, not just of material expenditure: you may not have thought it out quite correctly, but at least you’ve taken the time to think. -Maria Konnikova (Scientific American) The Psychology Behind Gift-Giving and Generosity

Some of the ways have been mentioned above such as working on ones personal happiness levels, supporting people to follow their dreams and interests, being a confidant and not divulging someone else's private information or circumstances without permission... especially online, keeping promises & being on time (as much as possible) and allowing people to be themselves, warts and all. Other things include banishing jealousy, negativity and hypercritical comments. Eating healthy, being active and learning new things together. Being sympathetic, kind, authentic and compassionate. All of these qualities can heighten or even trump anything physical you choose to give a person. Maria Konnikova writes about this thought provokingly.

"The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don’t cost you anything” —Deepak Chopra


Many of these ideas are probably a little different from what is typically thought of as a gift but after numerous conversations with people in their 70's, 80's and beyond, almost all placed great importance not on physical gifts, but the gift of connection. They recounted how these relationships made them feel, laugh, learn and discover new things about themselves and the world around them. All things that ended up mattering the most in the end.

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive," -Anaïs Nin

Image: mam for Gave That

Have an idea for a simple gift to give or a story to share? Please leave it in the comments below or tweet it to me at @gavethat!

Also See:
- This Is Your Brain In Love (review)


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