Kindness and a generous spirit go a long way. And a sense of humor. It’s like medicine — very healing. Max Irons
What does it take to make your day?
It might seem that only the biggest things can turn a rotten day into a better one. You long for a scratchcard win, a £50 note discovered on the ground, a declaration of undying love, or a letter of acceptance for that thing you’ve been hoping for and dreaming about. Those things would certainly make you feel better.
They’re also almost guaranteed not to happen.
What are the odds, right?
But something changed my mind.
Work had been difficult, and then I caught a horrible cold. Think congested, feverish, head stuffed, can’t breathe, can’t sleep misery. Well, still gotta work, so I slogged on. After surviving one long morning in which all I wanted to do was run away home and hide under my blanket, there was a knock at my door. I expected another claim on my time and fading energy, and my heart sank.
Instead, the receptionist brought in flowers. A pink bouquet with a card that read ‘your (sic) in our thoughts’. It had been left by someone I had seen earlier. I was so moved by this, I could have wept.
I work in a so-called caring profession. I have colleagues, family, and friends, some of whom knew how ill I felt. Yet this came from a near-stranger, who went to some trouble to help me feel better.
Even a humble daisy would have shown me she cared. And I let her know I appreciated her gesture, more than she knew. It made me smile on a tough day, and that can be the greatest gift of all.
It takes so little to shine a light, and you never know who needs it most.
It need not be flowers; it can be any small, authentic kindness. Eye contact and a smile, a sincere inquiry followed by active listening are often missing in daily life. If we supply them and are genuine then we connect on a basic human level, and that’s what we all crave.
Make that tea or coffee without being asked. Drop change in the cup. Buy their favourite pastry, just because.
When backed by action, the thought really does count.
How could you brighten someone’s day? Look for ways to pay it forward. Go on — I dare you.
(first published 16 May 19 by Publishous on Medium)
If you’re the lucky recipient of a gift, how do you receive it? Get it wrong, and the whole exchange is soured.
You’d think it was easy, but gift giving is often a fraught affair, hedged round with expectations and social norms. Some people don’t know how to give; others never learn to give. Even when we’re following that golden rule, it can still fail.
During a writing group meeting, I once complimented a writer on her dialogue, which flowed on the page with the polished elegance that comes from a finely tuned ear. She smiled uncertainly and protested that it wasn’t that good – at all.
So we both felt bad. She felt undeserving of something good, and I felt as though she had thrown my words away. What made her react like that?
Given But Not Taken
Gracious acceptance is an art – an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving…. Accepting another person’s gift is allowing him to express his feelings for you. Alexander McCall Smith
I’m certain that my writer friend would never throw a physical gift on the ground and walk away. But in refusing to accept the intangible gift of praise, she essentially did just that.
When parents and caregivers teach us to be polite, they leave out the most important skill in receiving. Politeness hides many a scowl of anger and disappointment, and its lack of authenticity is obvious even when cloaked in smiles and happy words.
The art of receiving a genuine gift (or even a fake one) is in understanding that when a gift is given it must also be taken. Both sides are necessary.
Learn to give without strings. A gift with conditions is at best a loan of something the giver still controls.
The art of receiving a gift is first in feeling worthy enough to be given something, and second in expressing genuine gratitude.
When given a compliment, are you:
embarrassed because you don’t deserve praise,
suspicious of their motives because they must want something from you, or
angry because they’re clearly mocking you?
These emotions have their roots in old programming and/or traumatic events that you’re holding on to in the present.
Think back to the last such encounter and examine your feelings. There’s often an old memory attached that still shapes your behaviour in the present. Perhaps you were taught that taking things was selfish, accepting praise was a sin of pride, or simply that compliments weren’t for people like you.
To rewrite this script, here is one thing you need to accept about yourself.
You are worthy.
You are good enough, so is your work, and you deserve the rewards you receive. Whether it’s a yummy cupcake, a well-written report, or a project delivered on budget and on time. So accept that compliment. If you refuse it either outright or by deflection, you hurt both parties.
As interactions become more transactional and less genuine, dysfunctional gifting can be seen as a microcosm of a wider problem. When your gift is covertly rejected, you become cynical. There seems no point in giving, so you restrict yourself to exchanges that directly benefit you in some tangible way. When you refuse a gift, you replay an old script that says you are unworthy. You add to your burden of self-doubt.
The donor is hurt because rejection robs them of the pleasure of giving. You hurt yourself because you reinforce old lies that whisper you shouldn’t have nice things. And an exchange that could start to heal those wounds is wasted.
Take The Box
After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. CS Lewis
It’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling under-appreciated while simultaneously refusing credit where it’s due. Hidden under the guise of humility or self-deprecation, this form of self-sabotage eats away at self-esteem unseen. It’s time to find a better way.
Next time someone says something good about you, remember you’re being offered a gift. Don’t walk away or bad-mouth it. You know how you’d like your gift to be received. Make eye contact, smile and thank the giver sincerely. There’s no need to explain more. Don’t follow up with how hard you found it, or minimise your efforts. Don’t give away the gift by saying anyone could have done it.
There is no giving without taking. They complement and define each other.
Stay in the moment and acknowledge the gift. When you do that, you honour both the giver and receiver. That’s the gift you give back.
Christmas may be a distant memory, but there’s no wrong time to give a gift. And there are always birthdays, anniversaries, and random Thursdays to celebrate. If you want to treat a writer in your life, or even if the writer is you, here are some generous gift ideas that go beyond another fancy notebook.
No serious writer would turn down a ticket for a conference or writing retreat. Local options can be affordable, and if you want to push the boat out there are luxury options in beautiful places both at home and abroad.
These events are opportunities to meet other writers and network with people in the publishing world. Some people find agents and editors, but time to concentrate on writing and talk with like-minded others is the big draw.
Welcome to the Club
Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.
A subscription is the gift that keeps on giving. Consider Writer’s Digest, Writing Magazine, The New York Review of Books, among many others. Websites, print, and digital magazines cover every corner of the writing universe and offer contests, publication opportunities, and advice.
Not Available in Stores
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
Gift giving is fraught with social and individual expectation. We make many judgements when it comes to selecting a gift and measuring its success.
If we’re less well off, we feel that we can’t give what we don’t have. And if we’re well off, we can resent spending money we worked hard for. All these negative feelings sour both giving and receiving.
How about taking money out of the equation altogether?
Tangible gifts are welcome of course, but what humans crave is often something both simpler and more complex. You and I both want the same thing; we want to matter. We want to be heard and appreciated in some way. Here are some options for generous gifts for writers that don’t cost a penny.
The hardest part is making the time to write. Not finding the time to write, mind you. Making.
If you share a busy life with a writer, chances are they struggle finding enough time to write. Look at your schedules and figure out a slot that works for both of you. Put it in the planner and stick to it. And be prepared to take on the work that needs doing to make it happen, whether that’s taking over bathtime or walking the dog.
No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination.
Maybe you don’t have room for a Pinterest-worthy writer’s study overflowing with books and a vintage typewriter. A corner of the spare bedroom or living room might have to do. Respect that space. Keep yours and the kids’ stuff off the table when it’s writing time.
Your writer needs space in time to attend a retreat or conference. Again this might mean you have to take up the slack in domestic chores. If you’re the writer, return the favour by trading chores and fun another time so you both get away. This works well for friends with children who need watching.
Notice them in the world
I always worried someone would notice me, and then when no-one did, I felt lonely.
Buying a book? There’s a card for that, but interaction is priceless. Engage with your writer’s work in public. Write a positive review or comment, rate or clap their pieces, like their Facebook page, and sign up for their email list.
Amplify their voice
Every human being is trying to say something to others. Trying to cry out I am alive, notice me! Speak to me! Conform that I am important, that I matter!! Marion D. Hanks
Writers and creatives are often introverts who hate to be too visible, even as they want their work to be noticed. You can help by engaging with them on social media. Follow them, retweet them, talk about their work online and in person. We’re bombarded with so much information and choice that personal recommendation means more than ever.
Acknowledgement is everything
The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.
We say it’s the thought that counts but it’s more than a cliche. The most important gift of all is acceptance. The person who describes themselves as a writer does so after much soul-searching and doubt. Allowing them to claim that identity, without mockery or dismissiveness, is a precious gift.
Enthusiasm and genuine curiosity in asking about their work will be remembered and appreciated long after the conversation is over.
Give A Little More
We all have the ability to make someone’s life better. If you have plenty of resources, or your donor does, appreciate your good fortune and choose something to move your work forward. But the intangibles, the things which are free but rarely given, are even more valuable.
Award gifts to yourself, to others, and remember what goes around comes around. Build good writing karma and give at least as good as you get.
Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.