The best gift you can ever give those who love you is a healthy you. Sounds hokey (and selfish), right? Well, consider what I'm suggesting. If you are as healthy as you can be in mind and spirit, you will be the best version of you. You will have more energy, making you more interested in doing things with others. You will have more emotional and physical strength so that you can be available to others-which is especially helpful when they are struggling. And, you will be happier and more pleasant to be around. So, if your friends really are your friends, they will want you to be at your best and to be able to enjoy your company when you are at your best; and you will want to be fully there for them when they need you.
I'm not suggesting that you refrain from all material gift giving in favor of taking care of yourself, but I am suggesting that you keep your priorities straight during this season, for the year to come, and for the rest of your life.
While you are not the center of THE universe, you are the center of YOUR universe (even if your prime focus is to serve that universe). And so, to serve others well, you need to keep yourself physically and emotionally healthy. To do this, attend to the following domains:
Your body: You cannot be a strong presence in the world if your body is not well maintained. This means that you must eat well, sleep enough, and keep your body in shape (requiring some kind of exercise).
Your limits: Everyone has only so much time, energy, money, and any other personal resource you can think of. Too often people become angry with themselves for not giving more. But by accepting your limits, you can plan to make the best use of your resources while maintaining a healthy respect and appreciation for what you are giving.
Present you: One of the greatest gifts you can offer yourself is acceptance of yourself as you are now. With self-acceptance, you can be compassionate toward your pains, weaknesses, or struggles. This warm approach can help you to feel better about yourself in the moment, despite your struggles.
Future you: Even while accepting the current you, you might want to be different in the future. For instance, you might want to be happier, calmer, thinner, or more social. To achieve these kinds of self-improvement, begin with learning to be compassionate for you in your current situation (as I described above). Then as you begin to try to change, you will be able to approach it as a supportive and encouraging friend to yourself. This is much more helpful than the common practice of trying to bully yourself into being better.
If self-compassion is difficult for you to feel, then you will do yourself a wonderful favor by committing to develop it. An essential part of gaining self-compassion is learning be more aware of yourself, of how both past and current experiences affect you. With this self-awareness, you are more likely to be able to develop compassion for your experiences, just as you would for a friend. (To learn more about compassionate self-awareness, see Getting Advice or Compassionate Self-Awareness. For practical advice on developing it, see How To Be More Compassionate Toward Yourself)
When you give gifts from a place of feeling happy and emotionally strong, it's not just a physical gift you are giving. Along with the wrapped present, you will naturally also be giving your love, warmth and good wishes. What can be more precious than that?
Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD's Relationships and Coping Community.
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