Welcome to Sing With Your Feet. My name is Lily Fields and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half-hour or so.
This week’s topic is one I hope will come at just the right time for you in your Cinderella life. We are talking about gift giving for this week and the next, but as with just about everything we talk about here on the podcast, we are going to relate even gift giving back to the Golden Rule.
So we have a little bit of work to do, because if you are anything like me, Cinderella, gift-giving is one of the most frustrating, most anxiety-inducing parts of the holidays.
The gift I hope to give you this year is to help you bring even one tiny bit of inner peace and joy into this tornado of overwhelm that is the holidays.
So we are going to start with a wide swath of thought experiments this week, before next week, when we will start digging into the list of people that you need to buy gifts for and thinking of how you can give a thoughtful gift that will speak volumes about just how much you love the people on your list.
Speaking of which: have you started making a list of the people you need to find gifts for? It’s not too late…but not too early either! So if you want a piece of actionable advice from your humble fairy godmother right this instant: go make that list.
For those of you who are still here, we’re going to talk about my favorite subject. You, Cinderella. We’re going to talk about you. I have brought an extra dose of fairy dust this week, and I supercharged my magic wand. Are you ready?
Part One: What do you want for Christmas?
Those six words: what do you want for Christmas? are, in my book, six of the most stressful questions I could ever be asked. Rivaled only by the six word terror-inducing sentence, I need to talk to you, which, if you suffer from Impostor Syndrome or any feelings of illegitimacy or self-loathing, you will recognize as a major trigger.
We aren’t talking about Impostor Syndrome today, thankfully. We are talking about Christmas gifts.
I’ll be honest: I hate both asking and being asked that question. I hate it that I have to ask that question of the people I love, because my perfectionist instinct tells me that if I really loved someone, I should be able to know instinctively what would make that person happy, feel loved and seen and known.
But I also hate that question because I know that no matter what gift I ever receive for Christmas, it will inevitably disappoint me. I’m old enough and have enough life experience behind me to know that no tangible gift would ever make me truly happy, or feel truly loved, seen and known.
Spoiler alert, Cinderella. If you haven’t arrived at that conclusion yet, let me spare you some heartache. No gift left under the tree will ever fill you up. Because what you are lacking is probably not tangible anyway. But here I am, getting out ahead of my crystal slippers.
Let’s remember the Golden Rule for a moment: Do for others as you would like them to do for you, and Love your neighbor as yourself.
Obviously, if what I would like done for me is that someone gives me a gift that makes me truly happy, feel loved, seen and known, I am setting the bar very very high for myself as a gift-giver.
The goal of this podcast is not going to be to resolve that particular conundrum.
The goal of today’s podcast is to help you examine what your deepest want is, or maybe even, what your deepest needs are, and to help you find ways to provide for them this holiday season. When you have started to scratch the surface of what your deepest want is, you will be able to start looking down your list at the people you love, the people you need to buy Christmas gifts for, and with the bandwidth you have available, start asking the same question of them.
I’m also going to suggest that perhaps looking for tiny ways to provide for others what you are wanting is going to bring you a harvest of fairy dust and joy during this season.
Several years ago my husband asked me that dreaded question, “What do you want for Christmas?” You know I love my husband. I know my husband loves me. But that question threw me for a loop. I have no idea…was my genuine, honest, absolutely instant reply. My mind went perfectly blank.
I mean, sure, I have seen dozens of things in stores that I like. I mean, I have a little list in my secret journal of things that I love and that I want. But for some reason, the question hit differently once I actually heard it with my ears.
Because I believe in listening to my own thoughts and reactions, and this perfectly numb blankness was something brand new, instead of just going into my secret journal and listing off a couple of things I had liked, I undertook to actually think about it, and to understand why this question gave me a deer in the headlights moment.
I want to save you numbness of a deer in the headlights moment, my dear. So I am going to ask you to go sit down. I need you to be in the most propitious position for thinking. Grab a blanket, grab a cup of coffee if that will help. Grab your little notebook. Get cozy, because we are going to talk through some things.
Part Two: The Gift
I want you to imagine that your fairy godmother just handed you a wrapped gift. It sparkles in an otherworldly way. When you blow gently on the ribbons, a little covering of fairy dust floats into the air before dissipating. The wrapping of this gift is so exquisite, you think to yourself “It’s almost a shame to open it up!”
As someone who loves to wrap gifts, I do enjoy taking special care to make a package look special. What I also know, is that , as a gift-wrapper, quite often, and i am not proud of what I am about to say, I take more care to wrap the gift than I did to actually pick out the gift itself. So…and I’m sure you have experienced this before, when you have a particularly cute little package, and then you open it up and the contents are….disappointing.
That has never happened to you? Well. You are a better person than I. But if this has happened to you, you’ll know that feeling of letdown, which is a brutal cocktail of ungratefulness and disappointment. You almost wish you could go back to the moment before you opened the package, when there was still mystery and unknown and excitement.
Well, this package that I just handed you today? This is not that kind of package. Whatever is inside that package is, if you can believe it, even better than its exquisite fairy dust covered exterior.
Whatever is contained inside this package is the thing that would give you absolute peace, joy, happiness right at this moment.
I know that we are talking in the abstract right now, but I want you to imagine the texture of what is inside, without yet trying to define what the thing inside the package is. Is it something soft? Is it cool and smooth? Is it stretchy or firm? Is it delicate or sturdy?
Is the gift heavy? Or is it light as a feather? What is the shape of the package? Does it have sharp edges or are the edges beveled or rounded?
Whatever is in that package is the thing that your life is missing the most right now. Notice that I am not asking you what are you needing the most right now.
I am asking you, in the abstract, to describe what that thing would look like and feel like if it could be boxed up and handed to you in a pretty package.
Please, take a moment and imagine ways to describe what is inside that package with words, without worrying about what the object actually is.
Are there any thoughts that are bubbling up? Any echos of conversations that are coming to mind? Keep dreaming for a moment. Is there any music playing while you imagine the scene?
Now, I am going to share with you what happened when I allowed myself, a few years ago to imagine what it is that I really wanted for Christmas. I am fully aware that this is idiosyncratic, and that because you are you, your gift is going to contain something different than mine. Depending on what is going on in your life or in my life, the contents might change, too. What was inside my Ideal Christmas Gift won’t necessarily be what is in there in three years from now.
Okay. So, the package that I had in my hands was rather flat, maybe two inches at most, and it was about two handbreadths wide. It was heavy for its size. The wrapping was breathtaking, with intricate beading and a simple, wide cream colored ribbon tied in a bow holding the package together.
Now keep in mind, in this thought experiment, no matter what was inside of this package, I knew it would not be a disappointment to me. I knew that whatever was inside, it would be a fulfillment of something deep and profoundly needed in my life. So there was a mix of excitement and trepidation about untying that ribbon.
I’d like to think that I took my time opening the bow, sliding the ribbon off, maybe even smoothing the ribbon across my lap out of respect. Then I remove the beaded wrapping, and same thing, I neatly lay it across my lap.
The box…the box is hinged, and made of a live-edged piece of wood. It is smooth and softly finished. I run my hand over the details of the grain. As beautiful as this box is, what is inside is even more beautiful.
So I slowly unlatch the box and open it. Inside, folded over the gift is sparkly tissue paper, the only thing separating me now from the one thing that I truly want right now.
I fold back the tissue paper.
Whatever it is, it is the palest pink. It has a pearlescent sheen to it. It appears to be made of something silky, but stretchy. It is strong, and as I pull it out of the box, I hold it to my chest and can feel that it is the one thing that I truly need right now.
But what is it?
As I hold it against me, and as touch it to my cheek, a little waft of music floats through my head.
It’s from Hamilton, which seems a little strange, but I recognize the melody as the song Who lives who dies, who tells your story… It’s a moment that leads up to one of the most exhilarating key changes in history, and I try to remember the lyrics.
And then it comes to me, and if you want to hear this for yourself, just go into the shownotes and listen to the YouTube link there. It’s 1:50 into the song.
The Lord in his mercy he gives me what you always wanted, he gives me more TIme.
That’s right. This gift, this stretchy, soft, comfortable gift, which is the fulfillment of my deepest want and need at this very moment in my life: it’s more time.
Maybe for you, what you need most deeply right now is more sleep. Or more connection with your spouse. Or more peace in your heart.
I want you to keep on imagining this thing that is inside your beautiful gift until that simple, deep, undeniable truth makes its presence known.
I am not a therapist or a counselor. And for you, this deep need in your soul might be something that you need to talk through in a more indepth and personal way. I would encourage you, if this conversation becomes a trigger for you to find someone to talk with.
Part Three: The Gift of the Intangible
That’s all well and good, Lily, but even you, my fairy godmother, cannot give me more time. Or more sleep. Or more connection with my spouse.
This is true, my Cinderella. I cannot give you those things. But you can.
Granted, there are only 24 hours in a day, as we have discussed on myriad occasions. We all have exactly the same number of minutes in an hour…in a week…in a year. And yet, what was in that box, that one gift that would not disappoint me, was exactly that. It was more time.
You see, once you realize and come to terms with the thing that you are most lacking right now, you can start to make a plan to pursue that thing in small, practical everyday ways.
When I realized that what I needed and wanted the most, that the thing that would bring me the most satisfaction would be simply to have more time, I was able to start addressing this. First, by tackling the things I was doing to sabotage my experience of time…things like wasting time on internet rabbit holes and wandering aimlessly through the grocery store.
Tiny things like setting time limits on my electronic devices, or making an actual grocery list instead of the aimless wander or…even better, eventually discovering the curbside service of my grocery store…these things were practice steps that made that precious gift of more time into a reality of my life.
Once you know what your deepest desire is, and you purpose take yourself and your desires more seriously, you can start pursuing them. Until then, you are living on a parallel timeline in which you will never be satisfied because you aren’t taking yourself and your desires seriously.
Part Four: The Elevator and the Golden Rule
So, something funny happened once I realized that my deepest desire was for more time. I started finding ways to make the time I did have more efficient. This didn’t mean that I had extra hours in a day, but it did mean that I felt like I wasted less time each day.
This may be a subtle distinction, but it’s worth taking a closer look at.
Our perception of our lives and the reality of our lives can be very very different. I mean, when we are busy, we are busy. Our perception of that busy-ness, though, can either be of anxiety and stress of where do I need to be right now, and I should have done that yesterday! Or, it can be…for example…joy. Look at all I got done today! And Good for me for not clicking on that link that would have sent me down a rabbit hole!
You see, the reality is the same. It is our perception of it that is different.
Let me tell you a story.
I live in a 6 story building with an elevator. My family lives on the fifth floor, and we park our car in a basement parking garage.
When I come home from the grocery store, I unload the car in front of the vestibule that leads to the elevator. I try to prop open the access doors with my grocery bags. I am usually in a hurry when I do this, and I know for a fact that my heart is racing, for fear that someone will end up needing to pull into the garage and find my car parked in the way. I usually call the elevator while I am there, knowing that it will still be a few minutes before I actually get to head up.
Once the trunk is empty, I hop back in the car and park.
Then, I walk through the two access doors, collecting the grocery bags as I go, and I tap the elevator call button. If everything has gone as planned, the elevator opens right away and I put the groceries in the elevator, push the button for my floor and away we go.
For me to feel like this has been a successful grocery trip, the one small element of that little dance I described that has to be in place is that the elevator be called before I go park the car.
Does this sound like a small, insignificant detail to you? It probably should.
But let me tell you another story. Every day, when I bring my kids home for lunch, one of them will take my keys and take the elevator up by himself to unlock the apartment door, while the other one and I park the car and come up later.
For some reason, when I arrive in the vestibule and see that the elevator is still on the floor we live on, I get irritated.
Now, as someone who loves to examine these weird little psychological phenomenon, I wondered to myself, why do I get irritated when the elevator is still on the upstairs floors?
And the answer was simple. It is a waste of my time. I also managed to feel disrespected and forgotten about. I mean, how easy is it to just push the button to send the elevator back down to the parking garage? Could that child not think of his mother and brother before galloping off to unlock the door?
Am I asking too much? Maybe I am. But the thoughts and feelings…my perception of the thing is authentic.
On the other hand, it happened once that someone who was arriving on a normal day, and disappeared into the vestibule just as I was pulling in. When I arrived at the elevator vestibule, I saw that the elevator was waiting for me…without anyone in it. That person had sent the elevator back for me.
And can I tell you how I felt, in an extremely irrational, inexplicable way? I felt loved. I mean, I felt LOVED. I felt seen and respected and all of that simply because someone had pushed the button for the parking garage level when they got to their floor.
When we talk about the Golden Rule, when we talk about doing for others what we would want done for us? How do you think this manifests for me, now?
You got it. I always send the elevator back down for someone who is coming after me.
You see, the Golden Rule helps us take what is our deepest need, and find small, doable ways to fulfill that need for the people around us, too. By recognizing and honoring our own deepest needs and desires, we are better able to care for and love others.
Little by little, our perception begins to shift away from ourselves and our inconveniences, and becomes about how we can bring more fairy dust into the lives of the people we meet….which can also be more simply put, loving others.
Getting to the heart of our deepest need and desire can also help us answer that incredibly troublesome question, “What do you want for Christmas?”
If I know that what I really want and need is more time, then what I should give some extra thought to would be a gift that would help free up some time. My husband is an excellent gift giver in this regard, and when I told him that my deepest need was to have more time alone, he came up with a plan. Now, several times a year, he packs up our children and he takes them to his parents’ house, leaving me for a few days alone with my thoughts and a large swath of time to do the things that I want or need to do.
As you start to examine the contents of that perfect, Ideal gift, can you think of ways that someone who loves you could help provide that gift in a small, practical way? Even an intangible desire can have real-life manifestations. Taking the time to perform a little bit of self-examination can substantially increase your experience of satisfaction.
If you need help thinking this through, drop me a line, either by direct message on Instagram, or by email email@example.com.
Part Five: The Love Languages and Gifts
The Five Love Languages…ahhhhh yes. We talked about this briefly last week, but it is absolutely critical to everything that is coming up next, so I am going to real quick catch you up, especially if this is something new to you.
Dr. Gary Chapman, who is a psychologist and marriage counselor, wrote a book a while back called the Five Love Languages. In it, he posits that each of us experiences love in different ways, and that we can put those experiences of love into five broad categories:
- Spending Time
- Physical Touch
- Acts of Service
- Words of Affirmation
- Gifts or tokens of affection
There are two complications to this rather simple notion. Number one: we do not necessarily express love in the same way that we experience love, and Number two: the people we love do not necessarily experience love in the way that we express love.
In the first case, it means that we need to do a two-fold examination of ourselves, both looking at how we feel most loved, and learning to recognize how that plays out in our lives, but then also how we are most comfortable expressing our love to others.
This is complicated because, for example, you may be someone who experiences love by touch, but you absolutely are not a hugger yourself. Or, you may be someone who expresses love by, I don’t know, cleaning the toilet, but when someone does the dishes for you it leaves you cold.
Knowing yourself and how you express and experience love can be a wildly helpful thing when it comes to increasing your sense of satisfaction in your relationships.
In the second complication, we need to realize that when we go to express our affection to someone that we love, we need to realize that they might not experience love in the way most natural to us to show it to them. So we might actually be putting pressure on ourselves for something that will ultimately backfire, because it won’t have the desired impact.
The answer to the second complication is to become a student of the people we love, and learn how they are most receptive to our ouvertures of affection.
We cannot assume that we know what it would take a person to feel loved, because our own experience of love can get in the way.
Like in my earlier example, about my husband taking my children for a few days and leaving me utterly alone? Spending time alone is one of my love languages. But you know what? Spending time together is one of his. So he had to learn that for me to feel loved by him I needed to be alone. I know, it doesn’t make sense. But if he were to continually be making time for us to do things together, and thereby fulfilling his need for love, then mine wouldn’t be getting met.
This is a give and a take, obviously. Because what I know to be true is that he also needs, in order to feel loved by me, for me to drop what I am doing and do the New York Times Spelling Bee with him before bedtime.
The most important elements to mastering this crucial relational dynamic are 1. Become a student of our own experience of love and 2. Become a student of the people we love.
Part Six: Becoming a Student of the People we love
I’ve talked about this before, but truly loving people is hard work, isn’t it? It’s particularly hard when our feelings are having a difficult time catching up. This was true when I was experiencing post-partum depression. I mean, I knew in my head that I loved my family, but my emotions were kept at bay by a kind of numbness that seemed to reach into the deepest corners of my life.
It doesn’t take depression for this numbness to reign in our lives. I mean, we don’t always feel soft and fuzzy affection for our families. It’s hard, when you are wiping a kid’s butt, to have tender, warm feelings. But it isn’t because we aren’t feeling anything that we aren’t supposed to perform the acts, gestures and behaviors of love.
Caring for the needs for an infant is relatively simple. Holding, feeding, changing a baby is pretty much all they need, and it’s all the experience of love that they know.
But as they grow, and their personalities develop, they start to show tendencies. One of my kids needs to be wrestled, as in like Greco Roman wrestling to know he is loved, but shows he loves me by playing with my hair. The other needs to have you sit on the floor while he runs from one side of the room to the other telling you about the story he is imagining. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to be there. He shows me he loves me by making a little gift, or a drawing and wrapping it up for me to open…and this…every. Single. Day.
My husband needs words of affirmation and to do the New York Times Spelling Bee with me to know I love him. But he expresses love by cleaning the toilet and taking the boys to his parents’ for a long weekend.
Each person we love has this dichotomy. Each person, including every single person on our Christmas list.
If you already have a list of the people you need to buy gifts for, and you have a little bit of bandwidth to try out this challenge I am putting before you this year, pick a few of those people and consider the question: How does this person show love? And how does this person experience love?
I tried this little thought experiment last year, and I came to an unbelievable conclusion: One of the most difficult-to-shop-for people on my list wasn’t just being difficult.
It was that we had been trying to buy something tangible, when what he really needed to feel loved was to feel useful.
That’s right: my father-in-law, bless his heart, is someone who expresses love by performing acts of service. When I came to consider him, and my relationship to him, I remember him being truly happy only a handful of times. And each one of those times was when he had pulled off an exploit–one time, he had gone to every single shoe repair shop in the tri-city area looking for a specific red shoe polish for a pair of my shoes. And he came back victoriously, with the stance of a superhero.
So when I came to consider how I could give him a gift that would help him feel loved and appreciated, I realized that if I could create an opportunity for him to pull off an exploit, then I would be really speaking his love language.
So that’s what we did. We paid for a trip for him to come visit us and help us fix up some things in our apartment. We made a list of things…cupboard doors that needed repaired, holes in the walls to be plastered…
It seems like an odd gift. But you should have seen the twinkle in his eye when he understood that he was needed. It was the ultimate good idea in gifting.
This is an especially useful technique to consider for those tough-to-buy- for people on our lists. It’s worth it to try.
As a side note, I fully recognize that doing this kind of thing–becoming a student of the people we love–is far more time consuming than ordering up a gift card on Amazon (which, may I add, can be a perfectly valid gift to give in any number of circumstances!) It requires more thought, more sensitivity and, well, more bandwidth than usual.
The point is not to do this over the next month for every single person on your list. The point is to pick just one or two, and really try to understand them and how they experience love, and to give them a gift in accordance.
Next week, I will be enumerating what I like to call “Gift Receiver Templates”. They will describe different kinds of difficult-to-buy-for people, and attempt to uncover what their needs and wants are, and how with your gift, or the way you select or give them the gift, can help respond to those needs.
I know, I know. You never expected to get into philosophical or psychological weeds about Christmas gifts. But fairy dust can take you to unexpected places sometimes, n’est-ce pas?
All right so you have your homework for this week. You are going to spend some time thinking about that deepest want, or deepest unfulfilled need in your life right now, and how you can turn it into practical, small doable elements. Ask for what you really need this year. Ask for the tangible manifestation of an intangible desire.
Then, I want you to consider your list of people to buy for, and think about how one or two of those people and how they receive love. How can you speak their love language this year with your gift?
Listen, Cinderella. I believe in you. I believe that you are capable of bringing more joy and more love and more peace into this world, because you are willing to do things differently. Do not buy into the “more is more” fallacy this holiday season when it comes to gift giving.
The only way more will ever be more is if you are willing to love yourself more this year. By loving yourself more, in more specific, targeted ways that respond to your deepest needs and wants, you will have more joy and more peace.
That joy and peace is a gift that will never disappoint.
We’ll be back next week to talk about those nightmare scenarios and people who are hard to buy for.
Be great this week!
I want to give a great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outro to the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to sing with your feet!