4 gift-giving ideas that spark joy

 By Marilynn Preston


In April, we plant flowers. In December, we give gifts.

Which is why I lasered in to something a wise young yoga teacher said at the end of a deliciously challenging 90-minute class:

“Take all the warmth and energy you’ve just built up in your body,” she said, “and send it to someone else, someone you know who really needs it.”

It makes you rethink gift-giving, that’s for sure. Let’s be honest. Does anyone really need an electronic cork puller?

A Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer snow globe?

What if you gave your loved one a neck rub instead of a necklace?

Would your kids throw a holiday hissy fit if you asked them to donate some of their used toys to others instead of filling up their rooms with new ones?

OK, maybe I’m dreaming, but I’m, oh-so-not alone. There’s an increasingly vibrant and healthy movement in the country toward conscious consumerism, toward voluntary simplicity, toward giving more, owning less and paying it forward to people who need your help.

Sure, the Blitzen and Vixen wine bottle stoppers are adorable, but isn’t it just adding to the clutter of stuff no one really needs?

If any of this speaks to you and your growing desire to live a life with fewer tchotchkes and a greater sense of personal well-being, now’s a good time to reconsider your own gift-giving policy.

The challenge is to stay present yourself, and gift family and friends in a way that fulfills your highest desire to be generous and loving and debt-free.

That said, here are four categories of gift-giving to excite, inspire and amuse you:

Give Bodywork. 

Is anyone in your life, on your list, suffering from aches and pains, stress and strain? Ho-ho-ho, who isn’t? A good massage — whatever style, from Swedish to shiatsu to hot stone — does wonders to soothe the mind, refresh the body, and relieve the discombobulating stress that comes from hearing the nightly news.

My favorite way of giving this gift is to book two massages at the same time — one for your dear one, one for you — and go out afterward for a great meal and discussion of the meaning of life. Bodywork gives joy in the moment, an experiential high that leaves a weary soul less tense, more open, calmer, more relaxed. A flannel nightgown will never do that.

If a massage is too expensive or feels like inappropriate touching, think about other kinds of bodywork: manicures, pedicures and nontoxic facials. And don’t forget the three R’s: reiki, Rolfing and reflexology. I’ve had them all and been saved from foot surgery twice by a genius reflexologist in Chicago.

Time With an Expert.

I love gifting people with private lessons or coaching sessions. Whatever their interest — from tennis to tea ceremony, from piano to pottery — arrange a lesson or two with a real pro in the field. Time with a swim coach? A master chef? A mahjong teacher? Yes, it takes some effort to investigate and set up, but the payoff is beyond words. This is the gift that keeps on giving, unlike this year’s hottest toy, the Fingerling, which squeezes your finger, blows kisses and passes gas when you press its head. (I am not making this up.)

A Basket of Treats. 

Consumables! This is always a welcome gift because, with time, it disappears. Pack a box or basket of goodies that includes real foods: nuts, seasonal fruits, artisanal cheeses, great breads, celebration wines and bubbly waters. Stick in something unexpected: a bar of fabulous dark chocolate, a new cookbook, a subscription to the Nutrition Action newsletter, a coupon for a carwash, etc.

Support a Nonprofit.

There are countless nonprofits waiting for your gift-giving dollars. Is this the year you honor your loved one by donating $30 for a box of honeybees for the Tuiboch villagers in Guatemala (http://www.heifer.org)? Or contribute to the lifesaving projects of Doctors Without Borders (www.doctorswithoutborders.org)? Or help pay for award-winning after-school classes for girls who are eager to do yoga, play sports, avoid violence, eat smart and grow into healthy women (www.girlsinthegame.org)? (Full disclosure: I was founding chair of Girls in the Game, and I’m still an enthusiastic board member. Give now!)

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