Well, Christmas is over a month away and the stores are already crammed with gifts they’re pushing us to buy. Gift-giving makes retail stores happy, but – honestly – most of us don’t need/want more stuff. What do we really need? What would actually make our lives better? Let’s give each other those kinds of gifts, not only during this “Holiday” season, but all year long. Consider giving:

Kindness – Say “hello” to people on the street. Say “Good morning” to the people who work at the places you shop and eat. Smile at people in the supermarket or even the gym (be brave!) If you’re too shy to say something kind, think it. Sometimes I think good/kind/loving thoughts about someone I see who looks unhappy or angry.

Kindness is always a welcome gift: for example, if you’re calling a business and are on hold for a long time, you’re probably tempted to give the person who (eventually) answers a hard time. Don’t. Instead, give them kindness. Be gracious. Sure, you can say, “I’ve been on hold for 27 minutes and I’m a not happy about that”. Don’t lie and pretend to be happy about it, but consider adding a little bit of kindness too (ironically, kindness usually gets you more of what you want too).

Friendship – Think about the people who you consider friends. What about them do you love? What about you do they love? How can you give them more of that? Perhaps they want to go to a movie that doesn’t thrill you. Can you give them the gift of that movie? Is your friendship worth it? I’m not saying that you should be a martyr for your friends, but don’t we all make occasional sacrifices for our best friends? You could even ask your friends: ”How can I love you more?” It’s a bold question, to be sure, but you’re bound to get some really great responses.

Time – Spend time with people who may be lonely or sad and may hesitate to admit it. I have a friend whose wife died a year ago, I have spent more time on the phone with him (he lives in another city) than ever before. He wants to be heard, to be listened to, to know that someone cares. So, when I call him, I make sure I have at least an hour to give him. I don’t want to rush him; I want him to be able to tell me whatever’s on his heart and mind. That time spent has really deepened our friendship.

Food – If you really want to give your friends/loved ones/family a gift, take them out for a meal. Food and friendship go really well together. If you’re just scraping by financially, take them to a great inexpensive place with good food, even if the décor isn’t stellar. If you have the means, take them to the kind of restaurant you know they’ll love. Ask them about their favorite foods, what restaurants they always wanted to go to, but haven’t yet, or the last restaurant they went to that was amazing. Take them there again.

Activities – Maybe your friends would like to go with you to a play, a concert, the opera or symphony…why not take them to an activity you know they’d love. And you get to share it together!

Listen to Your Muse: instead of giving more things/stuff/objects, people who love you would probably prefer to have more of you! They want to be with you, talk with you, spend time with you! And, of course, if you see something in a store that screams, “Buy me for (name of friend), he/she will love it!” then, by all means, listen to your muse. What I don’t recommend are hours spent at malls and stores buying gifts you feel you “should” buy, because you feel obligated.

Deepening friendships and relationships is the best gift you can give anyone. It’s rarely something you can buy in a store: it takes more thought than that. So, listen to your muse, and consider gifts of kindness, friendship, food or shared activities as the holidays approach. You might find that this new attitude results in your happiest holiday ever…whatever holiday(s) you’re celebrating.