2 posts categorized "Happiness"

December 9, 2017

Gift- Giving Season Without Conflict: 5 Tips AND a New Year Challenge!

Surprisingly often we find ourselves in conflict with others about giving and receiving gifts. Gift giving seems like it should be simple and conflict-free.  We are making an effort to positively acknowledge another person with a gift.  However many of us have found it’s not that easy.

Woven in with the other social challenges of families and workplaces at this time of year there is the challenge of giving gifts. Recent discussion in the media about giving cash gifts with strings attached got me thinking about the complexity of gift-giving. 

Many retail businesses survive because of the spurt of purchases in the holiday gift-giving season. After all that’s the origin of the name Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., to recognize the day that the bottom line in retail business shifts from red to black. Gift giving is big business. It is estimated that Christmas gifts account for 5% of all consumer spending and about 8% of a family’s annual budget may be spent on Christmas gifts. Let’s not forget the other celebrations at this time of year which may include giving gifts, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. That’s a lot of resources invested by gift-buyers.  Added to that is the effort and time invested in choosing and making gifts that cannot be valued with money.

Family members are the people to whom many of the gifts are given. According to Psychology Today, December 2016, “Four-fifths of all gifts given by adults over the year are Christmas gifts. Four fifths of all Christmas gifts are given to relatives, especially close relatives.  No wonder the choosing and buying of Christmas presents is such a big ordeal for so many and for such a long time.”(my emphasis)

Based on my experience as a mediator and dispute resolution professional, and as a giver and recipient of gifts, here are five tips to help navigate gift-giving season with less conflict.

1. Less is more

Don’t spend more to try to get them to like the gift (or you) more. At this time of year we are surrounded by advertising messages that encourage us to spend.  In contrast this is such an old concept that there is the popular wisdom of a proverb to illustrate it: "Small gifts make friends, great ones make enemies".  

 Modern research supports this. Studies found that there is “no relationship between the cost of a gift and the extent to which it is liked or preferred. The best predictor of how much a gift is appreciated is the amount of time, mental and physical effort put into choosing, making or preparing it.” 

 Think about some of the gifts you have received which you value most. A drawing from a child or a favourite food made by a grandmother are often the type of gifts that make us smile even many years later.

 2.  Enjoy the giving.

Giving a gift is an opportunity to express your bond with the recipient. Remember the gift includes your time and effort in choosing or making the gift.

There is no obligation to give a gift. If there’s an obligation it’s not a gift. The gift captures our effort to observe the recipient, and to choose a gift they want, or even better, a gift they didn’t know they wanted.

What you are really giving is your thought, the emotion you feel for that person. The action or the item is the representation of the thought.

Psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift, according to a 2007 article in the New York Times.

 3. Let go.

When you give, you have to let go. No strings attached. After the gift has been given, the giver has no more attachment to it. It’s not yours anymore!

Your gift might be as small as cookies you baked or as large as a new car. When they receive your gift, they can eat the cookies or throw them out. They can drive the car or sell it. And if your gift is cash, it’s up to them to decide what to do with it.

The only part that you get to keep is the happiness that giving brings you. See # 2. 

 4.  You know what gift you gave. You do not know what gift they got.

Dr SunWolf succinctly described the paradox of gifts. “I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.”

Consider your gift from the eyes of the recipient, as much as you can. How the recipient interprets your gift may be based on factors unknown to you and not within your control. Your brown paper wrapping to be planet-friendly may signal to them that you do not value the relationship very much because an ex in high school gave them an unpleasant gift wrapped in brown paper. Your gift of expensive jewellery to someone you met a couple months ago, may be seen as a level of commitment that is not shared.

  5.  Receive graciously.

 When you receive a gift, it is important to recognize the giver’s thought for you that is captured in the gift. If you make comments like “That’s too much”, “You shouldn’t have“, or “I didn’t want anything”, the underlying message the giver understands may be that you do not want their love. 

 If you receive a gift with a genuine, “Thank you”, and acknowledge the thought behind the gift, it allows the giver to feel the positive emotions that motivated them to give you the gift in the first place.

 In return for their gift, you give them back the gift of your thought and love for them.

 

Following these 5 tips is a good start to reducing holiday gift-giving conflict.

 

 New Year’s Challenge:  Do one small thing! 

What is one small thing you can do that will make a big difference for someone close to you?

You can start small. You can start today.   What change can you make that will create a big difference for someone close to you?   It might be stopping small annoyances with common sources of conflict like toothpaste tubes and toilet paper rolls.  It might be something more important like helping them out with chores.  It might be stopping smoking or getting more exercise or helping them to do that.  You might not even tell them that you have made this change, just let them experience the difference you made.  Think outside the box!  Likely this will be something that is not captured in a box or in the statistics about the economic impact of gift-giving season. 

Imagine what a positive impact you could have on the people close to you if you could do one small thing that will make a big difference for each one of them.

That’s the challenge I invite you to embrace for 2018!

 

Join us in London, Ontario, Canada for Fundamentals of Mediation on March 21, 22, 23, 26, & 27, 2018. Click here for more information.

 

 

June 25, 2017

Happiness in 5 Simple Steps


Would you like to be happier? The start of the summer season is a great time to bring more happiness into our lives. 

Recently I was working with people struggling in a long and complex conflict situation.  Afterwards I thought about how important it is to manage our emotional distress by shifting our focus to what we can do for ourselves to increase our happiness.

I found this distillation of ancient wisdom about happiness from the Stoics  in a recent post by Eric Barker in the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Simple steps but not easy.   Here’s a summary:

1. Events Don’t Upset You. Beliefs Do: Only the end of the world is the end of the world.

If you lose your job you might feel excited or devastated depending on your beliefs. If you believe that the job was bad for you and you will have no problem getting another job, you will feel excited by the opportunity.  If you believe that it was your perfect job and you will never be able to get another job like it, you will be devastated.  The objective event is the same, the emotion is different.

The emotion we experience is based on our belief. In Shakespeare’s words, “Nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

Most of the bad feelings we have are caused by irrational beliefs. The helpful approach is to focus on those negative emotions about an event, rather than focusing on the event that we think was the cause of our negative emotions. 

Ask yourself what you believe about that event. And then ask yourself if it’s rational:

  • “If my partner dumps me, I’ll never get over it.”
  • “If I lose my job, my life is over.”

These are irrational beliefs, and if those are your beliefs you will likely be anxious, angry or depressed.

If you revise your beliefs and you can change your feelings: “Even if I get fired I can get another job.   I’ve been unemployed before and I got through it.”

 2. Control What You Can. Ignore The Rest: Worrying never fixed anything.

Remember the old serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Much of what we experience as stress and worry are events over which we have no control. If we worry about getting laid off in a market downturn, our worry will not change the market downturn or the employer’s decision.  Worry is another irrational response that we need to train ourselves to leave behind for the sake of our happiness.

However if there is any part of the event that you do control, it’s better to stop worrying and take action. Improving the quality of your work so as to be as lay-off-proof as possible and looking for other job opportunities are both elements within your control.  Not only does this cut down your stress, it also means that you are spending your energy on action that will make a difference for you.

 The image with this article explains this point visually.

Image1

3.    Accept Everything. But Don’t Be Passive: Nobody recommends denial. Accept. And then do something.

If we choose not to get upset about irrational emotional responses or worrying, what should we do? Accept things as they are and then decide what to do about them.

Acceptance is not resignation; acceptance is the opposite of denial. We may wish things were otherwise but it is irrational to deny the reality facing us. We can think, “I should not be laid off,”  but that will not change reality if we are given the pink slip.  “Should” is a very popular way of denying reality.  Denial is another irrational belief and is going to lead us to those negative emotions as in step 1. 

Instead if we accept reality we can decide what we can control, and then take action on those controllable factors, as in step 2. Maybe this lay-off is going to lead to a new opportunity which you could not imagine in the old job.

 4. Choose Whose Child You Will Be: “What would Batman do in this situation?”

Now shifting away from the reactive to the positive, take a look around and realize that you are not alone on this island. There are mentors, teachers, role models and lots of other people to learn from.

Seneca said “ We like to say that we don’t get to choose our parents, that they were given by chance – yet, we can truly choose whose children we wish to be.”

Identify a person you really admire, a person who is doing something that you would eventually like to do, including living life well. Interview them about how they were able to accomplish what they did and the steps that you could take to get to that level.

Next time you face a challenge, think of that person you admire. Research shows that asking yourself “What would _____ do?” can have powerful positive effects on your behavior.

5. Morning and Evening Rituals Are Essential: Plan for the day, then reflect on the day.

Rituals can help you recognize whether you are  improving.

Every morning think about all the negative things that will be brought to you by the people you face, try to understand why they will behave that way, and then “forgive and love them for it”.

At the end of the day reflect on what has happened and what you can improve.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” is another quote from Seneca. We all have the potential to become better.

 

One final tip:

The final tip is from Marcus Aurelius, “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.”

A few thousand years later, the research shows that gratitude still makes a difference to happiness. Subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier.

“What if I never met my partner? What if my child was never born? I am so lucky to have them in my life.”

 

Take action in 5 steps and spend this summer being happier - and grateful that you read this blog post.

 Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts September 27, 2017.

Read Eric Barker’s full post here: http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/09/ancient-wisdom/