The gift-purchasing season is in full swing and we’re being bombarded with thousands of messages about deals and discounts for products whose purchase may threaten our solvency, cause undue stress and provide only fleeting satisfaction to the recipients.
It occurred to me while reflexively succumbing to the siege that it might be a good idea to pause and give more careful consideration to my gifting process and choices.
I decided that whether one’s gift is a material item, cold cash, an experience or supportive service, the motivation for giving it matters. And to figure out what that is, it’s worth taking a hard look at the emotions and goals that accompany the gift.
We should ask ourselves if our giving act is heartfelt, whether it stems from pressure inflicted by retailers or blindly accepted family traditions, or comes with an expectation that we'll get something in return.
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Possible underlying motivations include a desire to one-up others or appear more successful. Perhaps you’re seeking to “buy” love or support, compensate for personal feelings of inadequacy or make amends for something you failed to do or a slight you dished out. Maybe you’re operating along tit-for-tat lines and giving joylessly, out of a sense of obligation.
To help me sort through these complex issues, I went hunting for some wise, literate quotes. My 22 favorites are listed below. I hope they'll help shed light on your own reasons for giving and prompt you to think more deeply about the ways you express generosity.
1. “A fight is going on inside me," said an old man to his son. "It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you."
The son thought about it for a minute and then asked, "Which wolf will win?"
The old man replied simply, "The one you feed.”
— Wendy Mass, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
2. “That's what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.”
— Simone de Beauvoir
3. “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
— John Bunyan
4. “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”
— Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
5. “In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
6. “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
— Simone Weil
7. “Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
— John Wesley, Letters of John Wesley
8. “I gave you all my secrets and you lost them all. You lost a lot of things.
But the treasure of it was in the giving, not the keeping.”
— Julio-Alexi Genao, When You Were Pixels
9. “Generosity could be as contagious as the zombie plague as long as enough people were willing to be carriers.”
— Jonathan Maberry, Dust and Decay
10. “Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine, why should you number up my cups of tea?”
— Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol 2
11. “If you want to call attention to your good deed then it isn’t a good deed, it’s a self-serving one. Why? Not only have you patted yourself on the back but you’re fishing for others to do the same.”
— Donna Lynn Hope
12. “You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
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13. “It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.”
— Jacques-Yves Cousteau
14. “Money is but one venue for generosity. Kindness is an even more valuable currency.”
— Alan Cohen
15. “Minds, nevertheless, are not conquered by arms, but by love and generosity.”
— Baruch Spinoza
16. “It wasn’t that he was specially ungenerous but that he put things off to give his generosity a longer and more significant route.”
— Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March
17. “Being generous often consists of simply extending a hand. That’s hard to do if you are grasping tightly to your righteousness, your belief system, your superiority, your assumptions about others, your definition of normal.”
— Patti Digh, Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally
18. “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
— Fred Rogers
19. “Be a gift to everyone who enters your life, and to everyone whose life you enter. Be careful not to enter another’s life if you cannot be a gift. (You can always be a gift, because you always are the gift — yet sometimes you don’t let yourself know that.)”
— Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Vol.2
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20. “How can I give you nothing? Do you seriously expect me to buy nothing, wrap up nothing, stick a gift tag on nothing, send a card saying I really hope you like your nothing and lie awake worrying that the nothing I got you was the right color!”
— Hilary McKay, Caddy Ever After
21. “Time cannot be packaged and ribboned and left under trees for Christmas morning. Time can’t be given. But it can be shared.”
—Cecilia Ahern, The Gift
22. “Christmas Gift Suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.”
— Oren Arnold
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