The season of giving can be one of the most stressful times of the year. How do you decide who to give presents to? And how much should you spend? And what if your heart is fuller than your wallet? When there are important people in your life you wish you could give to, but can’t, it’s worth remembering this holiday cliché: it’s the thought that counts.
So how do you actually make a thought count?
First, it’s worth exploring what thought, in this context, really means. Instead of fixating on what object might bring a person joy, find a comfy place to sit and spend some time actually thinking about that person. What was that new job she got? How old are his kids now? What was the name of that song you used to play together over and over? Think about what you love about them, why you keep them in your life, what you have fun doing together.
After you’ve reflected on what you love about them you should be in a great position to consider what you could do that might really make them happier.
Here are five ways to skip the gift for a thought that actually counts, all year round:
1. Raise your hand to help. Do they have children? Pets? Plants? Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help—hard to even know who to ask for help, so letting someone know you can help out in the future can mean a lot. Sure, babysitting three kids under the age of six for an evening might not be your bag, but that’s just one of the reasons why doing it would be worth so much.
2. Invitations. How many times have you looked over pictures of acquaintances having a ruckus weekend and thought, “why didn’t anyone invite me?” Even when you can’t make it just being invited feels pretty good. The next time you’re up for a hike or a quick bite, or just browsing the local farmer’s market, invite someone. They’ll feel loved even if they’re busy.
3. Connections. If someone is looking for a career change, moving to a new city, or maybe picking up a new hobby, being connected with people who can help them on their journey can be fruitful for both parties. Maybe they won’t have the opportunity to meet up, but getting paired over an email saying, “you two are amazing!” can make both parties feel pretty light on their feet that day.
4. When you have the thought, share it. A text, a call, an email—they can all mean more than any sweater. Even a simple “thinking of you!” can be heartwarming all year long.
5. Meditate on it. Studies have shown being more mindful can help you be more open, better able to communicate, and less stressed out. A happier you is a gift in any relationship.