8 Ways to Give the Gift of Presence Throughout the Year

By Etta Hornsteiner
hand presenting a gift with a tag saying presence

For many of us, the holidays can be a stressful time. The buying of gifts, cooking of meals, family feuds, longings for a loved one recently lost are some of the conditions that can turn an ordinarily happy time into a stressful one and trigger illnesses such as depression. But what if we could live intentionally and fully present each day, including the holidays, so that our joys don’t turn into stressors? Yes, it is possible, when we practice “the gift of presence.” The gift of presence is living in the present moment—fully engage with life without replaying the past or worrying about the future. Here are eight things we can do to experience a fulfilling life throughout the year.

Focus on relationships

Life is about relationships. In fact, the only way to stay engaged with life is through interactions with people and animals. Even though shopping is a big part of the holidays, focus instead on enjoying relationships. This is a way of showing what you value. Some friendships, for example, are priceless, especially as you grow older; it is important to treasure the old friendships and appreciate the new ones. Joseph Parry, a Welsh composer and musician, expressed it this way: “Make new friends, but keep the old; those are silver, these are gold.”

Ask for presence instead of presents

We expect that as we mature we come to realize that the most valuable things in life—love, joy, friendship, etc.—cannot be purchased with a credit card. The presence of another human being, be it of a loved one, a friend, or even a co-worker, is a gift. So, the next time you’re asked, ask for time together as a gift. It could be an afternoon walk, a conversation (face-to-face or on the telephone), watching a movie together. By asking for time together, you are valuing that person as a being.

Find a support system

A part of being and remaining healthy is staying connected. Most people want to age in their own home so that they can remain connected to familiar places and surroundings. Today, organizations such as Friends Life Care—an organization that supports individuals who want to age in place—make this a viable option. They know that as human beings we are not meant “to do life” alone. That’s why when you become one of their members, you are automatically given a care coordinator and enrolled in their vigR™ program. The vigR program, whose acronyms represent vitality, independence, growth and resilience, is a unique whole-health model. VigR™ is a proactive research-based model which helps members to improve and extend their mental and physical health resilience. It provides opportunities to better understand and improve the four essential factors that make the difference between aging and aging well so that you are not alone in an unknown territory called aging.

Additionally, life events, such as a hip fracture, can be stressful and can even result in depression. But the care coordinators at Friends Life Care are there to pick you up should you fall and put you back on the road to recovery. Friends Life Care is an excellent support system that offers assessments, workshops, online health resources and social community.

Stay engaged in the community

Living alone does not have to mean isolation. You should continue to be engaged in the community. According to Dr. William Eaton, mental health professor at Johns Hopkins University, social connectedness is so important to staving off depression and determining how quickly someone comes out of it. “People who volunteered, who attended club meetings, who entertained at home or attended church, the more they do those things, the more times per year they do those community things, those social things, the less likely they are to be unhappy, and the more likely they are to be happy,” Dr. Eaton explains. The lack of social connectedness is associated with the risk of depressive disorder.
So whether the time of year is a holiday or not, look for opportunities to connect—to share a dinner with someone, to play cards or bridge together, to attend a religious service or go dancing.

Be an intentional giver, without strings attached

If you are going to give, particularly during the holiday season, do it without any strings attached. “Some people feel a deep need to be recognized and thanked immediately for their gifts. This expectation can be a burden on the receiver—and a threat to the relationship if the giver quickly becomes offended,” writes Jon Spayde, in the article “The Gift Machine.”

Receive

The other side of giving is receiving. Because we are interdependent, we have to be comfortable receiving as well. “One-sided independence damages our sense of community,” emphasizes Dr. David Allen, author and psychiatrist, for “the meeting of one another’s needs knits us together.” A part of being in community, then, is also receiving—being humble to receive love, advice and even forgiveness.

Sometimes we may feel uncomfortable about receiving because of how we feel about ourselves. We may feel unworthy. But our gift of presence is one of grace; it is “neither earned nor deserved on the basis of perceived merit.”

Be vulnerable to receive

Sometimes pride, fear, dislike, or distrust may make us resistant to any service or love from another person. But when we are vulnerable to receiving, we can truly give. Discovering a healthy balance of receiving and giving takes careful discernment.

Share your dinner table

The holidays can bring people together, and this can be beneficial to our mental health. Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners are not just about the foods. The dinner table allows the bonding and the knitting of souls. Environmental Nutrition reported a study that found an inverse association between the number of companions at mealtime and geriatric depressive symptoms. The study involved 8,000 participants aged 60 and older from China. Those who ate in groups were less likely to have symptoms of depression. They also examined the habits of people who lived with others but ate alone. It was this second group that had an increased risk of depressive symptoms.

Companionship during mealtimes is healthy for you. Be intentional and plan times to eat with someone. You do not have to wait for a holiday dinner to do so.

Conclusion:

Living life with vitality, independence, growth and resilience calls for engaging in life fully—being FULLY present. Full living is as much about you as it is about others. Enjoy the benefits of the holidays, but also take these benefits with you throughout the year. Practice giving the gift of presence.

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