How much time do you spend in a day thinking or worrying about what other people may think of you? Take your time, really think about this. I know that most of us spend a great deal of time concerned with how our actions or words will affect (or have affected) our family, friends, co-workers, and yes, even strangers. This appears to be a built-in commonality to most humans – it is in our “human nature” to need each other. We all instinctively desire families and friends, and as we evolved as a civilization, that instinct created a side-affect of caring about how others view us.
Recently I’ve been analyzing this trait we share, with the realization that while caring about approval is important, we waste a lot of time caring about the wrong issues or people. There are, of course, millions of individuals who seem to not care what other’s think, demonstrated either by their clear disregard for anyone’s wishes other than their own, or their overly-vehement verbal claims that they just don’t care what anyone thinks (Mr. Trump?). But even for these types, I know with certainty that in some aspect, in certain circumstances, or at the very least with a select few people in their lives, these non-care-ers do in fact care very much. They’ve just adopted the habit of shrugging their shoulders and letting go of the emotional turmoil that can come with caring. Sometimes we envy those who seem to not care because it appears freeing and less stressful. But remember once you force human nature to not care, you loose a lot of joy in life that comes from caring.
Now caring should not be confused with compassion, sympathy and empathy — which we all should strive to have more of. But caring to the point that we berate ourselves for our choices, or feel embarrassment or guilt about our actions, is the issue I’m addressing today.
How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something because you worried about how you might look or sound. What experiences have you missed out on because of this? The sad thing is that 90% of the time no one would have judged you poorly or possibly even noticed. The remaining 10% of the time, or rather the remaining 10% of people who might have a negative opinion, they’re either strangers that you will NEVER see again, or they are friends/family who better have unconditional love for you or they’re not worth being in your lives (in my opinion)!
Children do not start out with these concerns, they do and say what they want and live life to the fullest learning along the way how far they can go on pure instinct and the desire to find joy and fun in everything. It is only in the structured social and behavioral environment of school that they start to care – or more precisely start to temper their choices based upon their concern that other’s might judge them negatively. While sometimes this is a good lesson (i.e., not to put their bodies in harms way, not to speak out of turn, not to say hurtful things, etc.) it also crushes our inherent instincts to step out on a ledge and try something new.
While I’m not offering a solution to this dilemma today, I simply want to bring it to your consciousness and offer the reminder that some aspects of childlike abandon could do your life some good. Adulthood doesn’t mean we should stop learning or seeking to push ourselves and our minds and constantly seek new experiences. We have the benefit of adult wisdom when it comes to protecting our bodies and minds, but perhaps we should incorporate back in some of the innocence and bravery of youth. So stop worrying so much about what other’s think and just worry about if you’re doing right by YOU!
Now that we’re full swing into the year-end gift-giving holidays I find more and more of my friends and clients are stressed about the one aspect of these holidays that is supposed to make us feel good – the giving of gifts. People worry that they’re spending too much over-all, while simultaneously fretting that each individual gift is too little (either in cost or significance). This constant battle of the wallet vs. “what statement a gift makes” is seriously tainting these “happy holidays.”
I fondly cite one of my many favorite Friends episodes where Joey challenges Phoebe to find a truly selfless act. While she prides herself on being a “giving” person because it makes others feel good, Joey is quick to point out that she ultimately enjoys giving because it makes HER feel good – which in essence is a selfish act.
I too like being selfish in this arena. I love giving gifts to my loved ones because it DOES make me feel good, especially when I know that the gift is something they will likely use, enjoy, and appreciate AND because I don’t stress myself out over the gift. I understand that what makes a good gift is not how much it costs, but how well-chosen it is for the person receiving it. Even the smallest of gifts, if thoughtful, are usually more cherished than an expensive item. I have earrings that cost $1 that a best friend gave me 25 years ago that I still wear and love to this day – because they are very “me” (my style) and because they remind me of our time spent together when we young and broke.
The other important aspect of stress-free gift-giving is to remember that for most of us we are not giving just to receive something back, and most likely neither are our friends. “I do not give to get.” (In fact I have to admit that I get more joy from giving than I do from receiving.) Also, just because someone can afford to buy a gift doesn’t mean that a homemade gift or a “voucher” to do something together at another time has any less value or impact. Often it has more, for what is one of the universal best gifts we can all give each other? Time spent together!
When I was in my young and single and living on a shoe-string budget, I made most of my holiday gifts. I made candles, candlesticks, soaps, hand-painted wine-glasses, and other items — purchasing all supplies needed at dollar-stores. All my friends loved these gifts and even lamented that they wished they had been creative instead of shopping.
So if money’s tight, consider a home-made gift, or a “gift certificate” promising to see a movie together, or that you’ll cook a meal for them, or simply have a night out at a time when you’re more flush. No one wants their friends or loved ones to be stressed this time of year. Year end holidays are about money and gifts – they’re about taking time to count your blessings, and be appreciative of your family, friends, and health (hopefully).
Remind your children (and yourself) that the holidays are not about getting a bunch toys and gifts. What ultimately makes us all happy is simply spending quality time together be happy. Kids need love and memories of time spent with stress-free parents way more than they need the latest gadget. Remember also, that love and thought-fullness is the best gift we can all give to each other and ourselves!