It’s holiday time and for many of us, holidays that should be filled with opportunities for true happiness—a sense of togetherness, a chance to give, and a chance to be grateful—are turned into occasions for fights, disappointments, overspending and fatigue. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Holidays don’t have to be expensive, meaningless or filled with stress. Rather, they can be occasions to connect to those you care about and to express your skills and talents.

Last year, as part of my quest for a more authentic Christmas giving experience, my loved ones and I decided to give one another only presents of time, energy or creativity. I taught Angie how to cook risotto; Dave took Don skiing for the first time; Andy did a bodywork session with Ana; Don helped Andy build a closet. It was wonderful. We each gave from our knowledge and talents, and we received skills and experiences in return. To me, it epitomized the best kind of generosity—giving of the self.

Another kind of meaningful holiday giving is making donations to charities in the name of the person you’d normally buy something for. Especially as we age, most of us have so much stuff that we’d prefer not to get more objects.

I’m not suggesting you quit doing what you enjoy about holiday gift-giving. Rather, that you consciously choose to give in a way that truly comes from your heart and notice what effect it has on you. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The only gift is a portion of thyself…The poet brings his poem; the shepherd his lamb, the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.” Wishing you a meaningful holiday season!

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.