Mindful Giving During the Holiday Season and Beyond

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By John J. Murphy, guest contributor

What better time of year to practice mindful leadership than during the year-end and year-beginning holidays? Of course, there are a variety of cultures and traditions celebrating this season, and many involve the practices of traveling, reuniting with family and friends, and exchanging gifts. There are also many people who struggle during this time of year with anxiety, stress, loneliness, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Navigating crowded parking lots, long lines, and frenzied shopping malls certainly adds to the levels of pressure one can feel. And then there is the uncertainty and doubt about what gifts to buy. Again, what better opportunity to practice mindful leadership than this highly energized time of year?

As you probably know, mindful leadership is the never-ending discipline of being highly aware of our surroundings, empathizing with the people we encounter, and demonstrating a deep sense of inner peace, confidence, optimism, and grace. Mindful leaders understand that the greatest gifts we can share with others go beyond material form. Tangible gifts can be nice, of course, especially when given with love and positive intent. However, the most significant gifts we can give one another meet the following test: The more we give of them, the more we receive of them. This does not mean we are giving selfishly with an expectation of return. It simply means that we understand what is most important to people, and we give with an open heart. We use the mindful practice of empathy to understand what others need and align our giving with that which is valued most.

Mindful Gifts

Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind throughout this holiday season and the year to come: 

  • Give unconditional love. This includes compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and grace, and it is something every human being desires – unconsciously if not consciously. This can take many forms, but it is the energy and intent of Love that touches people in a deeper way. Let go of any conflict or animosity you might be feeling toward a family member or friend and give them your heartfelt support. This can take the form of a handwritten card, a meaningful poem or song, a precious gem or thoughtful piece of jewelry, or a simple treasure they can reflect on throughout the year that reminds them of the bond they share with you. You will know you got this right when the more you give of it, the more you feel in your heart. There is no scarcity of what matters most. This gift also applies to perfect strangers. Rather than approach holiday shopping with negative anticipation and angst, go with a commitment to be patient, kind, and helpful. Lay off the horn and allow a little more time to relax and enjoy yourself while standing in line. Strike up a friendly conversation with others while you wait and be joyful with the people serving you. A genuine smile with a heartfelt “thank you” can make a big difference in a stressed employee’s day.
  • Give optimism and hope. We live in very unpredictable times and countless people are struggling with uncertainty, despair, fear, and doubt. Find a way to materialize positivity as a gift. Maybe it takes the form of an inspiring book or a “tool” that resonates with the person’s natural gifts, motivations, and potential. Perhaps a guitar speaks to them. Or a sketch pad, piano lessons, a soccer ball, or a chemistry set. Maybe it is an event you take them to. This is a gift that tells someone you see a great light in them, despite the darkness and self-doubt we face in the world. They feel trusted and supported, and you feel this way too by offering this gift with a sincere heart. The more hope and promise we give one another, the more we receive. 
  • Give joy. This includes entertainment, fun, and laughter. The more joy we offer to others, the more joy we feel in our own lives. These are the gifts that matter most. Find something joyful to do together. This might take the form of a fun “outing,” or a simple project where you can enjoy each other’s “presence.” Maybe it takes the form of a ready-to-assemble birdhouse, a visit to the zoo, a fishing pole, or a toy you can play with together. Use empathy to understand how others feel and to discover what brings them joy. This will lead you to a plethora of creative gift ideas. 
  • Give power, which translates into empowerment. Mindful leaders know that one of the fastest ways to feeling empowered is by giving power away. The more we give, the more we receive to give. Of course, this requires a great deal of trust, faith, and patience – all gifts we have the capacity to offer. With trust, we build a foundation for healthier relationships and more effective teamwork. With faith, we cultivate trust – within ourselves and with others. We learn to believe that everything is going to work out and there is no need for fear. And with faith and trust, we can now be more patient. It is difficult to be patient when we have doubt. So, consider creative ways to materialize “empowerment” as a gift. This might take the form of a smartphone (information is power), a laptop, an enlightening book, or a visit to the local museum. 
  • Give respect, which includes valuing diversity with appreciation, dignity, kindness, and gratitude. It costs nothing to be nice to others - whether you know them or not. Recognize that we as human beings value different things. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another. Accept this. Honor it. And when offering a gift, apply it. Seek to understand what motivates and pleases others and find a way to show your respect by providing it. Be curious. Pay attention. Observe what others value and desire. Be mindful of their interests and choices. A gift of respect speaks to a person’s deepest desire – the recognition and acceptance of being a unique, authentic, gifted human being. And remember, this gift applies every bit as much to your waitress, cashier, neighbor, and driver as it does to your own family members and co-workers. It costs nothing to give respect, and the more you give the more you have. 

There is no doubt you will be “tested” during the holiday season and beyond to practice these gifts. Such is life. Being a mindful leader is not a goal or a destination. It is an ongoing journey – a practice that requires continuous awareness and attention. It is always of value. When times get tough, people need mindful leaders to remind them that there is hope. There is promise of better times. There is love. There is always something to be grateful for. And we are all in this together. Let your gifts this year convey a message of deep understanding.   

How do you plan to give gifts this holiday season? Please share your thoughts in comments.

John J. Murphy is the founder (1988) and CEO of Venture Management Consultants, Inc., a firm specializing in transformational culture change, mindful leadership, Operational Excellence, and high-performance teamwork. He has trained thousands of organizational leaders from dozens of countries, and he has appeared as a guest on over 500 radio, podcast, and television interviews. John is the author of 20 books, including the award-winning titles Beyond Doubt: Four Steps to Inner Peace and Miracle Minded Manager


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