52 Ways to Show I Love You: Provide Pleasure

The end of a calendar year, with its many celebrations, invites us to revisit ways in which we show love through the gifts that we give and the ways in which we receive offerings from others. This week I address ways to show love through providing pleasure; next week I will explore the sometimes harder challenge, that of receiving gifts with grace.           

What types of gifts do we give?

  • Gifts that cost money. Commercial interests are thrilled to see us translate our impulses to give into purchases. By spending money, we can offer something of utility (to create freedom), of beauty (to create inspiration or joy), or of comfort (to please the senses). We can provide an experience that brings opportunities to learn, to discover, to challenge, to practice a favorite activity, anything from cooking to driving a sports car to trying out a new step with a professional dance instructor. For the person who has everything, we can donate to a favorite charity, offering a gift in their honor.
  • Gifts of time. We can share our most precious asset, our moments, with someone we love. When we take the time to bring them respite from a chore that burdens them, the chance to not even have to think about dinner in the coming week, or a weekend spent away from normal demands, we are bringing them both what they need (or what we think they need — more on that later) and a blessing offered from within ourselves.
  • Gifts of the spirit. When our gifts are expressions from our inner selves, we share the result of our own creativity. A poem or song, a batch of homemade cookies, an immaculately swept garage or basement. Perhaps the gift symbolizes a transcendent bond, such as an heirloom passed along at the perfect moment or a framed photograph of a heart-warming memory that was shared. Many gifts can carry meanings that represent the timelessness of love, the mystical in our loving.
  • Caveat:  Gifts of (mis)perception. Throughout the series of “52 Ways to Show I Love You” I have emphasized the critical importance of appreciating the perspective of someone you love, that may differ from your own.  Three posts specifically addressed this topic, Point of View, Accommodating Differences, and Address the Conflicts. We so easily fall into the trap of giving a gift we believe a loved one “should” want. Often that gift is something that we ourselves want. Sometimes we cannot admit our desire even to ourselves. 
  • Even worse is the error of deciding what a loved one “should” need. O. Henry’s story, The Gift of the Magi, points out the folly of anticipating someone else’s priorities. Do not give up your most prized possession to provide for another without prior agreement between the two of you. When the gift is a reach, it is best that both people agree that the decision is a good one. Otherwise, what one experiences as generous can be seen as frivolous, what one means to be received with a hug of indulgence, can be received as outrageous and undermining.

Make sure that the gift, whatever it is, suits the tastes and patterns of the one who receives it. Think carefully if your offering will provide pleasure to the one you love or if you are trying to make yourself feel important through the giving. Perhaps we need to ask:

Why do we give a gift?  What best can show our love?

  • We may give a gift because it is expected, a tradition dictated by a culture or a relationship, or required by a social event. In these instances, our gift is motivated by a sense of duty, of fulfilling the expectations of others. Those expectations may be historical, based on their earlier experiences, or cultural, blared out through broadcasts and billboards. We can do so with joy, knowing that we are bringing the recipient confirmation of his or her view of a world-order (which we may or may not share), or we can do so with resentment. Gifts given out of obligation often show fraying around the edges when the electronic device fails to work after a few days, the chocolates show that they were purchased past their prime, or the plant requires maintenance that causes the recipient to regret ever having received it.

We may give a gift specifically to delight someone we love. We may hope to do so by:

  • Recognizing who they are. A ticket to a performance for a musician, a palette of sock choices for a fashionista, a clever kitchen gadget for the dedicated cook, a pair of movie tickets (complete with babysitting) for a couple with young children. We can hope to bring someone we love pleasure, either fleeting and momentary as they bite into the truffle and savor its flavors and aroma, or enduring, as they play and replay the music of their favorite composer from a new songbook. 
  • Acknowledging a particular bond in the relationship. You can honor a passion or experience that reflects your roles in each other’s lives or a passion you share. You can give a book to a book-lover, a fine jam to a fellow food-lover, a massage to a runner, a pair of gloves to the companion who always has cold hands in the winter.
  • Impressing them in a way they understand. Some people are only pleased when they are impressed by what you have given them. For one person it may mean a gift with a particular label or brand. For another, the time spent tracking down the missing piece in their collection impresses. Impressing them depends on recognizing what they value and that it may not be the same as what you value.

We can give a gift that costs money, time or energy, or some combination of them. We may do so to fulfill an expectation, to provide delight, to underscore our recognition of who a loved one is or a quality unique to our bond with them, or simply to impress them in a way we feel sure they will understand.  

Next week we will discuss the importance of and challenges to receiving graciously.   

What gifts have you given with great joy? What have you received that has brought you much pleasure? Do you feel you “have to” provide gifts for specific occasions or on specific dates? How does that sense of obligation affect your attitude and behavior? Can you think of an alternative that would allow both you and your loved one to derive more pleasure from what you are giving?

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

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