With Christmas less than a week away, gifts are on everyone's minds. I've been thinking about gifts too, but not the kind you'll find under your tree or in a stocking. So put away your credit cards and get out of the shopping mall. The top gifts to give this year are your personal gifts.
Many dictionaries define gifts as natural talents or abilities. For the longest time, this was the way I defined gifts as well and for this reason, I spent many years of my life thinking that I didn't have any because I couldn't draw and I wasn't good at sports. I didn't feel that I had any tangible capacities or talents that I could showcase and I therefore concluded that I wasn't gifted. Thank goodness I saw the light and I now realize that gifts are not only talents or skills that we possess. When I'm writing about gifts here in this post, I'm referring to the innate and unique characteristics that we all have which add value to our lives and the lives of those around us and can even extend to our communities and society at large.
In addition to confusion about what we define as gifts, a lot of us feel like we have no gifts because we often take them for granted. Because they come so naturally to us, we often don't acknowledge them as being special. We undervalue them to the point that we don't even see them as gifts. Worse yet, we tend to overvalue other people's gifts which leaves us feeling even worse about ourselves. I was plagued with this Grass is Greener Syndrome about my gifts for the longest time (and not going to lie, it still pops up at times). As I mentioned earlier, for a while, I felt that I had no gifts. When I finally did start to acknowledge that I had some, I always liked other people's gifts better than mine. On a coach training weekend I attended, we did an exercise where we had to ask close family and friends what they thought our gifts were. When I got my responses back, I felt like mine were so boring and I remember hearing the responses my classmates had received and I just felt like theirs were SO much better. If I remember correctly, one person was described as effervescent or something equally fabulous-sounding. WTF?! I wanted to be effervescent!! But no, I was just kind, patient and dependable. I had the same experience when I took the Harry Potter sorting hat quiz (yes, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan/geek). I was so bummed when I was sorted into Hufflepuff and not Gryffindor. I wanted to be a member of the house characterized by bravery and daring, not the house of dedication, patience and loyalty.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with admiring qualities that other people possess nor with striving to grow qualities in ourselves that we wish to nurture, but it is crucial that we don't downplay our gifts or think that they are any less valuable than what others offer. That is a huge confidence killer.
Over a year ago, I started doing a lot of reading on the topics of confidence and happiness. One of the books I read was entitled "The Happiness Advantage". There were so many interesting things I took away from reading that book. At one point, the author, Shawn Achor, explains how fulfilling it is when we use a strength of character which he describes as "a trait that is deeply embedded in who we are". He refers to a group of psychologists who catalogued the 24 cross-cultural character strengths that contribute most to human flourishing. These researchers then developed a survey that captures an individual's top five (of the 24) strengths, referred to as their "signature" strengths. Participants in their study became significantly happier and less depressed than controls when they used one of their signature strengths in a new way each day for a week. Imagine that...you can boost your happiness just by using strengths that you already have! The trick is to first acknowledge that you do have strengths and then you must recognize what they are. Take a few minutes to think about what your top five character strengths are.
If you're like me and you love taking personality tests and doing those little quizzes you find in magazines, you'll be super excited to learn that you can find out your Top 5 by taking the survey I mentioned above for free at http://www.viacharacter.org/www/The-Survey. How did your results compare with the Top 5 list you came up with earlier? I, of course, took the survey. According to it, my Top 5 were: honesty (authenticity/integrity); judgement (critical thinking); humility; kindness; and gratitude. It's taken a while to get to this place, but I can honestly say that I kinda love my Top 5 now :) What helped me start to appreciate my gifts and see them as wonderful and valuable was reflecting on how much I appreciate qualities like authenticity, kindness and dependability in others. When I see these characteristics displayed in others, I never find them boring. In fact, I actually really like being around people like this. It made me realize that these are not boring qualities at all. They are gifts that make others feel respected, appreciated and cared for and they are characteristics that I'd love to see more of in the world. This makes me feel like I can display these gifts proudly rather than feeling like I got stuck with them because all of the "good" gifts were given to others.
I believe that our signature strengths from the survey are essentially our gifts. There is no greater win-win than recognizing your gifts, owning them, loving them and letting them shine. Doing this not only boosts your happiness, but those around you get to benefit from the amazingness you share with them. I did manage to find one dictionary definition of a gift that I agree with in this context. One of the online Oxford dictionary's definitions is "a thing given willingly to someone without payment". So this holiday season, I encourage you to take a pause from this hectic time and spend some time discovering your gifts. Then start giving them away proudly and willingly!
Who's up for a challenge?! There are five days left until Christmas. I invite you to come up with a way to share at least one of your Top 5 gifts each day until Christmas with whoever you choose. I guarantee there won't be any returns or re-gifting ;)
As always, I want to hear from you! What were your Top 5? How were your gifts received by those you shared them with? Did sharing them make you happier?
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2016.