The best present you can giveFriday, 13th December 2019
Guest blog by Alex Heywood, 4and20million
Oh yes. It’s that time of year again! I think Andy Williams is spot on when he croons “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I love Christmas. Mainly because it gives me permission to cover my house in fairy lights, and one of my firm beliefs in life is that everything looks better when covered in fairy lights.
From reading the title of this blog, you’d be forgiven in thinking that I’m going to share tips on how to find the perfect present. However, if you are here hoping for a “Top 10 gifts under a tenner” list then I warn you now, you’re going to be disappointed.
The present I want to shout about today is not the type you wrap up and put under the tree, but one that you can give to absolutely everyone. For free. And that’s the gift of being present. Of giving the people around you your full, undivided, joyous attention. The joy of letting people know that being with them is really important to you.
Most of the images we are shown at Christmas are of perfect, happy families, basking in the warmth of love and laughter, against a backdrop of mountains of food on the table and piles of gifts under the tree. It’s all very lovely but it also creates a real pressure to create the same idyllic scene in your own life, pressure that most of us succumb to. Research shows that around 8 million Britons start the new year with huge Christmas debt. All because they wanted to demonstrate their love to the people who mean the most to them.
And yet what all of us want most from the people we care about is simply their attention. To feel connected, to feel heard, to feel understood and loved. To share a moment of laughter. To share a proper hug. To make memories that will last forever.
Today, we are more distracted than ever in each other’s company, and we know it. Recent surveys report that 89% of people say they interrupted their last social interaction to turn to their phones, and 82% say that the conversation suffered for it. We’ve grown so attached to our phones that we spend more time looking at our phone screen than we do looking at the faces of the people around us. It’s become socially acceptable to cut people off mid-sentence simply because our phone pings. When you just take a moment to properly think about our behaviour, it’s pretty shocking! Deep down, we all know it’s gone a bit wrong. Even the phone manufacturers are doing their bit to stop us becoming actual-real-life-phone-zombies by introducing software to highlight the ridiculously large amount of time we are spending glued to our screens. If this isn’t a sign that things are tipping slightly off balance then I’m not sure what is!
I recently read the book “Reclaiming conversation” by Sherry Turkle which is full of insight and wisdom. One sentence in particular grabbed me as I immediately recognised the dynamic:
“When we are apart: hypervigilance. When we are together: inattention.”
When we are apart, we look at our phones all the time to check in with friends and family. We are on high alert ready to help anyone who messages us. We respond as fast as we can to show people we care. Yet when we are together, we act like we want to be somewhere else. By constantly checking our phones we demonstrate that where we are, and the people we are with, aren’t quite enough. We are basically saying that we need more stimulation than the current conversation is giving us.
None of us mean to be rude or insensitive but it’s become so ingrained to have our phones clutched to our sides that we stop seeing how our actions upset the people around us. We lessen important moments by turning away from the human connection and instead choosing our phones. We’ve all been on the receiving end of this too. We’ve all felt resentful towards a partner or a friend who turns away from us and towards their phone. Our phones have a pull that we all find hard to resist.
But resistance is possible. It’s a challenge we can all embrace. We can all make a decision this Christmas to be better company. To listen fully. To be thoughtful and engaging. To properly see people around us and show them we care. To enjoy special moments simply because they are special, not because we post them on social media seeking approval from others.
I read a thought recently which I loved: When we go round to someone’s house, we take our coat off and leave it by the door. This is a clear sign that you’ve arrived and you are staying. Why don’t we do the same with our phones? Leave it with your coat. A clear sign that you have arrived, you are staying and this is the only place you want to be right now.
So try and give this gift this Christmas. It’s not an easy gift to give but it is a magical one. Try to spend Christmas looking at the people you care about more than you look at your phone. Between human beings, simple things reach you. Small gestures show you care.
Give your full attention to everyone you are with. Just be present.
(And because being present is free, you can give it as an added bonus along with the more traditional wrapped-up-with-a-bow-type present!)