Giving to Ourselves Before Giving to Others, No Wallet Necessary

There’s no doubt that we take ourselves for granted on a regular basis. This is particularly true during the holiday season when so much focus is on giving weight to consumerism and putting others first, which can be mentally and financially taxing. The line, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, perhaps it means a little bit more” from The Grinch likely comes to mind if you are someone who has moved away from buying mountains of presents every year. The holidays are a time to make memories with loved ones and appreciate that they are a part of your life. When it comes to inward healing, we tend to focus outwardly in hopes that making people smile and feel good will help us feel better about ourselves.

However, that is not the case. We need to give to ourselves first in order to give to others without bias. Compassion is only truly genuine when not formed on a need for self-satisfaction.

On “Manufactured” Joy

The brain’s neural networks for pleasure are stimulated by an array of triggers. From soaking in a spa to holding the hand of a newborn baby, there are actions that make us feel good and satisfied in the same way. When we give a gift to someone, this sensation is also triggered, which is why we so easily give in to the modern commercial tradition of buying presents for friends and family during the holiday season: We collectively long to feel good about ourselves, and you may notice that some individuals give more than they need to or can afford to when they are suffering internally. Such “manufactured” joy can have long-term repercussions including mounting debt and emotional stress, which can achieve the reverse of what you wanted and leave you feeling even worse.

Band-Aid Solutions

There is an inherent bias in manufacturing joy and giving to others before we take care of our own selves. Doing so involves using the satisfaction of recipients to help the giver feel more complete (even if only temporarily). Many of us crave this satisfaction and temporary contentment, especially if feeling badly about something and unable to come up with a solution. In that sense, giving during this time before caring for ourselves is really nothing more than a band-aid solution. Only giving without a desire to obtain something (like self-satisfaction and recognition) in return is actually a genuine, selfless act.

For example, a parent who raised their child abusively or caused long-term emotional damage is more likely to shower them with gifts later in life as a form of seeking solace and forgiveness. This is common when parents end up divorcing. The trouble is, they may mean only the very best for their children, but the gesture remains biased and hollow despite their good intentions. Our emotions and neural networking are clever, and many times we may not even notice why we are really putting that one extra present under the tree for someone else. Whether guilt, shame, loneliness, or regret, our minds often decide how to act before we realize it, and the same principle applies to the act of giving.

The New “Normal” vs. Wellness

There is a misconception that those who do not give gifts to others are self-absorbed and uncaring. Ironically, this is often the complete opposite. The gift-giving society we know today is so advanced and tightly intertwined with our emotions that it has become harder than ever to accept this. It is, sadly, the new “normal.” However, the healthiest thing you can do is give to yourself before looking outward and giving to others, and there is nothing selfish about this if it means you can make others happy in an unbiased manner as a result. If feeling incomplete, lonely, or stressed, take the time to consider the triggers of these emotions and see if you can overcome them before worrying about making anyone else happy.

The Best Gifts Come from the Heart, Not from a Store

The gift of wellness that can be passed onto others is the greatest gift of all. Sure, we can supplement with distractions such as the latest smartphone or an expensive trip, but it does not resolve anything. For example, cutting down on gambling is a gift of increased peace of mind over greater financial security, while finding a new hobby can help you find comfort and peace when the world around you is too much to handle. Even right now, getting up for a stretch and taking a break from reading this blog is a gift you can easily give yourself.

The holiday season can be the most overwhelming and stressful time of year for so many as it can serve as a poignant reminder of what matters most, beneath all the commercialism and festive excitement. By gifting yourself opportunities to enjoy every day and feel more wholesome, you may begin to share that joy and happiness with others. If you are having trouble with feeling good about yourself and need advice, contact us today to speak with a patient and friendly therapist who is happy to help.