Tis the season to be jolly and all that. For many this time of year is an exciting one, filled with hope and anticipation of gathering with family and friends, feasting and celebrating with loved ones and both giving and getting loads of presents that will delight and amuse everyone. For others it can be a time of great anxiety. Will there be enough to go around? Will there be fights and feuds on the big day? Will they like their presents? How will I pay the bills after this?

These are 2 perspectives of Christmas time. But what I want to talk about is something somewhere kind of in the middle.

I was talking with a friend last week who was fretting that she wanted to send her brother a Christmas card, but didn’t think she should because she sent him one last year but he didn’t send her one. I asked her why she wanted to send a card. Her reply was that she felt like it, she wanted her brother to know she was thinking of him but she wasn’t sure if she should. We talked for a while about that. In the end, with some prompting, she came to the decision that she could send a card just because she wanted to, not because she was going to get one back. She is a generous and loving soul who loves to give but has been brought up in a world of believing that you always have to give something back if you receive something in return. If you don’t then it somehow diminishes the act of giving. I know that many people are caught up in the same kind of belief. And it causes so much anxiety and expectation – especially at this time of year.

It’s a common human feeling. When we do something, we want to know we are appreciated. We want to know that the recipient got something good out of our act or gift. This is quite normal. But you know what? This actually limits us. It keeps us stuck because we aren’t able to act as we truly want to because we are always thinking of what we’ll get back.

What if you did something nice for someone and they just turned around and glared at you and walked away? You might think something like, “Ungrateful so-and-so. That’s the last time I’ll do anything like that for them!” and you might go away feeling used and unappreciated. Or you might think, “What did I do wrong?” and go away feeling inept or anxious about your ability.

Now, I’m not condoning ingratitude – gratitude and appreciation are the keys to living a contented life and saying ‘thank you’ is part of good manners and a civilized society. But what I do want to draw your attention to is how the giver-of-good-things or the doer-of-kind-deeds has massively limited themselves by expectation of return and so plunged themselves into some kind of hurt or anxiety. I propose that a more helpful approach might be to do the good deed or give the gift simply for the joy of giving because you can, not to ‘cheer someone up’ or ‘make it better’, but just because you have overflow of something. It may be that you have a feeling of happiness and you smile at a stranger because you feel happy. It may be that you put a couple of dollars in the Salvo’s bucket because you can. It might be that you send someone a card at Christmas just because you feel like sharing some news. There is no ‘should’ pressure; no need associated with the giving. When you try to give something to someone because of your own inner feeling of need, they pick up on that ‘need’ and feel obliged to give back. I’m sure you have felt obliged or confused about receiving something where you feel that, if you take the gift, then you will owe them something in return. Imagine receiving something that truly, honestly has no strings attached! Like a wag of loving dog-tail or a smile from a baby in a pram – there’s nothing they want or need, so we smile back in a way that’s different from a smile we give back to a salesperson in a shop. We smile at the dog or bend to pat it if we know the pooch. Not because we are forced to, but because the joy so freely shared strikes a chord of happiness within us and we are momentarily uplifted.

So, this Christmas, why not simply acknowledge the moments you feel full of love or happiness or whatever, and share without expecting anything back. Just share a smile, or a card, or a gift or whatever from a place of abundance in your heart – just because you can – and free yourself, and others, from the limitations and conditions of giving and receiving.

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