My goddaughter Natalie and her parents, my friends Larry and Charlotte

Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel? You’re not alone.

Most people describe this time of year – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Year’s Eve and other celebrated holidays – as stressful instead of enjoyable.  A 2016 telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (that compared the holidays to other times of the year) found that 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men felt more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their stress.

At this time of year, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. While gift giving is typically considered a good way to express your love, an August, 2017 research study suggests that the best gift of all doesn’t need to be dramatic or expensive to feel meaningful.

The study, “What Does it Mean to Feel Loved?” published in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, found that small acts of kindness, not expensive presents, make people feel most loved and supported.

“It’s Presence, not Presents”, as the saying goes. It’s about being there emotionally for those you love. The gift of love is the best gift of all. And you don’t have to be rich to give it. This year, why not focus on giving more of yourself, not your credit card.

What might this look like? To me, it means giving those you love the gift of your time, your attention, your voice, your hugs, your kisses (if it’s that kind of relationship)…you know, THAT kind of stuff.

That doesn’t mean that it’s bad or wrong to give gifts. But, that gift would probably be more meaningful if it includes spending time with its recipient. And spending time with someone doesn’t need to cost money.

Let’s say you have no money for a gift. Nada. What can you do? Well, have you ever met up with a friend for a walk? For a hike? To go for a drive and look at Christmas lights? These are basically free.

If you have a little money, why not take your friend to a café and buy her/him a delicious dessert and coffee? Or take them to a movie (bargain matinees are good). You could make them a nice brunch or dinner, if you cook. But, most of all, it’s your presence – your loving presence – that will really make a difference, not what you give or buy, but who you ARE when you’re with them.

This is love. Love. You’re expressing your love FOR them, TO them. And, hopefully, they can RECEIVE it and bask in it, like the golden waves of San Diego sunshine on a cloudy winter day.

I used to work for San Diego Hospice as a social worker for dying children and their families. That job changed me for life. Emotionally supporting terminally ill children taught me to stop making assumptions about my life: stop assuming that I will be alive tomorrow; stop assuming that people I love will be here tomorrow. As a result of that work, which was intense and demanding, I began to let people in my life know that I loved them WHENEVER I saw them. I didn’t do this before: always assuming that I could tell them at some future time. It was a bit startling to my friends when I began to say, “I love you” each time I saw them, but, when I explained why, they got it.

I invite you to do the same. Don’t assume that people you love – or you – will be here tomorrow. Give the best gift of all TODAY, when you’re with the people (and animals) that you love. Tell them you love them NOW. Don’t wait. You never know: this may be your last chance to give the best gift of all.