Don’t Ruin Birthdays and Holidays for Yourself

“What do you want for (insert gift-giving occasion here)?” I stress and overthink on this question every year … and now, I’m going to share that with you!

This innocuous inquiry sets off an inner turmoil with conflicting values. I want to want nothing, or donations to charity, because I honestly feel like I have enough, and I am aware of the needs and suffering elsewhere in the world. I genuinely don’t want a lot of “stuff,” for those same reasons above and also because it just ends up creating clutter in our home.

Yet, at the same time, I do enjoy some discretionary funds that I can use to take the family out, or do something else that isn’t strictly needed.

Also, gift giving isn’t just about the receiver (giftee?): the giver is psychologically involved in this, too. We enjoy giving gifts to those that we care about and seeing those gifts make them happy. I don’t want to deprive my loved ones of this. Some givers are not fully comfortable, either, with donating to a charity in lieu of a direct gift…I suppose it just doesn’t feel right to them because it’s not really going to giftee.

This year, I decided to settle some of my nagging internal questions for myself through self-reflection. I’ve also built a whimsical decision flowchart to assist anyone else faced with these problems (aren’t we all?…say yes, please…just lie and say I’m not crazy). All of these questions have “for your birthday, Christmas, or whatever other gift-giving occasion” implied.

Is it selfish to ask for money? No. If this is honestly what you desire, it is okay to provide this guidance. When I ask for cash or equivalents, I do try to provide some sort of picture of what I’m going to do with it (e.g., take the family out, put it towards a hobby / project — like this blog!). I think that helps the giver to visualize the enjoyment of the gift in the same way as if they gave a physical thing.

Is it selfish to ask for charity donations? Again, no, if that is what you honestly desire. Be prepared, though, for some people to really want to get you something, and then receive that gracefully. If you know ahead of time that there will be some resistance to this, consider just asking for money, and then donating that yourself.

Is it selfish to NOT ask for charity donations? No. Unless your circle is the kind that gives each other cars and summer homes, gifts are often of a moderate token value and are just as much about customs and strengthening our interpersonal bonds as about a transfer of wealth. These moderate amounts are not likely to be of critical impact to our world’s problems, either way, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about going along with custom and accepting a gift truly for yourself.

Overall, and in summary: Ask for what you want (within modesty). Receive openly with gratitude and use it as an opportunity to recognize your own blessings. Use that positive energy to go save the world!

For those still struggling, here’s the flowchart.

Flowchart On How to Provide Gift Guidance

For my most recent birthday, I asked for (and received) cash. I used that to enjoy some meals and play out with my family, and the remainder is earmarked for some random acts of kindness and other experiments that you’ll be reading about soon on this blog.

What about you? Have you ever struggled with similar concerns? What conclusions and approaches did you come to? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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1 thought on “Don’t Ruin Birthdays and Holidays for Yourself”

  1. I absolutely love this, Adam! I just went to a wedding where the couple said they had everything they needed and please just donate to one of three causes they picked. Part of me so wanted to bring them a gift, too, but I did as they asked and enjoyed the most intimate backyard wedding! As we clear out our home of clutter and prepare to downsize, I love your flow chart and will use it in the future!

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