I was in the mall earlier this evening, this first night of Hanukah 2011, and saw a lot of people gathering around the gift stores, looking for the right gift for their loved ones and I was reminded of the Hanukkah gift shopping I used to do for my family as a child. I remember saving up my money to buy the ‘perfect’ gifts for my parents, my grandmother, and my sister: a new vase for mom, another wallet or key chain for dad, a mug for my sister, and a picture frame for my grandma. (I really don’t think it ever got more creative than that.) And I still remember the tea set, my first (plastic) drum and guitar, and of course lots of new socks and undershirts.
Thinking back, though, what I remember and cherish most about Hanukkah with my family when I was young was spending time together: lighting the menorah, playing draidel (for real money!), and dancing together to the newest dance record that was popular in those days: New Addition and Michael Jackson (yes, I am a child of the early eighties) to name a few.
And I know that more than any gift that I ever bought or made for my mother, what she cherished the most was the cards that I wrote for her. She still has my cards and recently mentioned to me that she reads them every once in a while.
My mother always told my sister and I, that more than the gift, it was the thought that counted most to her.
Looking back on this now, what I appreciate most about my mother’s advice and wisdom was her knowledge of herself and what was important to her, and her ability to express that to us.
Many times we ask for things or think we ‘need’ something (an item, usually) thinking that that item will bring us the happiness that we seek. Most often, though, when we focus only on the superficial, we are still left feeling empty and wanting more, trying desperately to fill a void that will never get filled with these superficial things. And until that real need and requirement is filled, we will continue to fill it with superficial things, unless we know what it is that we really want and require and we have the tools to ask for it or get them in a healthy way.
I am reminded of a conversation that I had with my son last year. He was seven years old at the time and we were taking a walk together in town. We passed many toy stores along our walk and he tried his best to convince me that he really needed this new toy or that. But what I really knew about my son was that any new toy he was getting during this period, he would play with for up to a week, tops. And any time I went to a toy store on my own to look for a gift for him, it was always so hard to think of something that I thought he would like.
What I did know about my son, though, was that he loves to read, and he loves to spend time with us. So on that walk with my son I turned to him and asked:,
“Sweetheart, is a new toy what you really want?”
“Because what I have seen is that whenever you have gotten a new toy recently, you are excited for about one week, and then you are not interested anymore. I am not willing to invest money in something that you may not really want.”
“Okay, mom, you’re right.”
(To self in my head: ‘I’m right! Woohoo!’)
“Okay, so what do you really want, honey?”
“I like books and I like reading them with you. Can we buy a new book?”
“That sounds like a great idea, sweetheart. Let’s go check out that bookstore on the corner.”
I believe that the greatest ‘gift’ we can give another is to listen and observe what it is that they are really interested in and to teach them the tools to have an awareness of what they really want and require, and the tools to express that want and requirement to others.
One incredible tool and book that I use as a guide to help me get in touch with what my loved ones really want and require is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
In a nutshell, The Five Love Languages is about recognizing that each and every one of us has an emotional love tank that requires filling. Similar to cars requiring good fuel and our bodies requiring good, healthy food and exercise to function well, each of us also requires for our emotional love tanks to be filled regularly so that we can thrive and be successful in our own lives.
Similar to each of us having our own language that we feel the most comfortable conversing in or thinking in, we each have our own individual ‘love language’ – one that shouts love to us more than any other way that another shows love to us.
The five love languages are:
Words of Affirmation – telling someone often that you love them, what you appreciate and respect about them, in words or in writing.
Quality Time – Taking the time to spend it together with that loved one. It is not so important what you are doing, but rather that you are doing it with that person.
Gifts – Buying, finding, or making something special for your loved one. The love is expressed in the object. Like all the love languages, this too has to be sincere and thoughtful.
Physical Touch – This includes hugs, high-fives, a back rub and even wrestling. The physical contact is what is important here.
Acts of Service – Doing things for or with the other person.
We each require being shown love in all of the above ways, but each of us has one primary way, that when shown love in that way, makes us feel loved, cherished and ‘full’ the most.
You can figure out what your loved one’s (be it your spouse or significant other, child, sibling, friend, parent, etc.) love language is by observing how they show love to others, by listening to what they complain about most (e.g. “I wish you would spend more time with me!”) and what they request, or by simply asking them what they prefer and how they like to be shown love or that your really care about them.
I highly recommend the book “The Five Love Languages” (written for married couples, children, parents of teens, husbands, and singles, respectively) to anyone wanting to connect with and show another how much they are loved in the realest and sincerest way.
As I was coming back home from the mall and looking forward to lighting the menorah with my family, I realized that there was nothing more that I wanted than to hug my family, and to sing and dance together with them.
We had a great time lighting the candles together tonight and the children were so excited to light the candles on their own and to join in our singing and family group hug.
My husband and I decided that we would steer clear of the presents for now and focus instead on what we know is really important to all of us. Our love languages fall into the categories of quality time, words of affirmation, and physical touch. We covered those, and there was not one request for anything more. We all got exactly what we required.
These next few holiday weeks, take the time to focus on, express, and give to each other in a way that brings you and your family true fulfillment, contentment, and love.