Tomorrow is Christmas Day. Elysha is famous (at least in my mind) for her amazing gift giving. Over the years, she has given me some of the most incredible gifts of my life.
So amazing that I’ve been cataloging them for the past ten years. They include:
- Artists renditions of my childhood home and my grandparents’ home.
- A signed copy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
- An artist’s recreation of the map from my Boy Scout camp
- Dozens of small, clever, ridiculous little gifts that I play with all the time
Happily Elysha never asks me for possible gift ideas, because I can be a difficult person when it comes to presents. Though I love her gifts tremendously and would’n’t give them up for the world, I am much more interested in eliminating things from my life than adding to it. The accumulation of stuff does not interest me. In fact, if someone would just agree to clean out the the extra furniture from my basement and remove the large, unwanted items from the garage or shed, that might be the best birthday gift of all.
But if cleaning out my basement doesn’t strike you as a reasonable gift, there are three things that I want more than anything else, and I humbly suggest that you consider them as gift ideas for yourself as well.
I promise you that they are far superior to any cashmere sweater, shiny trinket, or electronic gadget that you think you may want.
Truthfully, the best gift of all is the gift of time, and it’s not a terribly difficult or expensive gift to give. In the past, my wife has hired people to cut the grass, rake the leaves, and shovel the driveway, thus returning this precious time to me.
Other options for the giving of time include babysitting my children, digitizing my photo albums, bringing my car to the shop to get that light on the dashboard checked out, determining the contents of the boxes in my attic, correcting all my spelling tests for a month, or offering to complete any task or chore that I would otherwise have to do myself.
Your list would be different, of course Hopefully it doesn’t include a warning light on your dashboard or mystery boxes in your attic. But I’m sure you can think of things that you would rather not do that a friend or family member is more than capable of accomplishing on your behalf.
I know what you’re thinking:
“Matt, I’d rather mow my own grass and receive that cashmere sweater instead.”
“I’d rather correct my own spelling tests and open a brand new iPad on my birthday.”
“I’m more than happy to shovel my driveway. Give me that new Fitbit/star finder/water purification device that I have wanted for months.”
No. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. I know it may seem presumptuous to tell you what you want, but trust me. I know. I know the difference between what you want and what you think you want, and the two could not be more different.
Studies repeatedly show that money spent on experiences generates far greater happiness than money spent on things. The gift of time is the gift of an experience otherwise lost to a mindless or meddlesome chore. It’s the opportunity to play with your kids or enjoy dinner with a friend or read a book or watch a movie.
I promise you that when you are lying on your death bed, surrounded by all of your material possessions – your stuff – your greatest regret will be the time you could’ve spent with friends and family. At that moment, the gift of time will mean more to you than anything else.
It should mean that much today. Don’t wait until it’s too late to appreciate it.
Honestly, you don’t need any more clothing or jewelry or electronics.
You could do without the device that clips to your belt or fastens to your handlebars or makes imaginary things explode when you click the right combination of buttons.
The thing you should crave – more than anything else – is time.
Coming in a close second to time (and in many ways its first cousin) is the gift of knowledge. Find a way to teach me to do something that I’ve always wanted to do but never could or haven’t had time yet to learn.
Either teach me yourself or find someone who can do it for you.
We all go through life wishing that we could do more. Accomplish more. Achieve more. This is a gift that would allow a person to take one small step closer to those dreams.
For me, it’s meant sending my wife to a cooking or an art class. It’s meant giving her a ukulele and a dozen lessons.
For Elysha, it’s meant buying me an hour with a professional poker player or an afternoon with a golf instructor.
In these instances, we walk away with nothing material but something far more valuable: The gift of knowledge. The acquisition of a skill. A slight improvement in an area that means a great deal to us.
Far more valuable than a pretty scarf or a new sweater.
And I assure you: There are skills and knowledge that you would like to acquire if you think hard. Here is a small list of the many things I want to currently learn:
- Hit my driver longer and more consistently
- Pitch a comedy special to Netflix
- Determine if I should commit to one airline in order to accumulate frequent flyer miles or simply continue to look for the best price and most convenient routes regardless of airline
- Use Instagram more productively
- Improve the SEO and visibility of our podcast
- Cook a simple, delicious meal that my entire family would enjoy
This one is simple and spoken about often. Want to make me happy? Send me to a Broadway show. Get me tickets to a Yankees game. Bring me to see a comedian who I love.
Last year, one of colleagues arranged for me to have lunch with a newly retired colleague and friend. Seeing my friend step into my classroom with a bag of food and an hour to spend was one of the best gifts that I’ve ever received.
It doesn’t take much to create a memorable and unique experience for a person. You won’t have anything to show for the experience once its done except the memories of the moment, but that is always better than the stuff that clutters our homes.
Those three things – time, knowledge, and experience – are better than almost any gift you could ever give me, and I encourage you to think similarly.
That said, I can’t wait to see what Elysha will give me tomorrow. While I’m not a fan of accumulating things, the gifts that Elysha gives me are so filled with thought and consideration that I can’t help but adore them. They are always hilarious or clever or so deeply nostalgic that they bring tears to my eyes.