How many presents get unwrapped on Christmas day? That nobody wants and nobody needs?
According to one study, Americans waste on average $15.2 billion on unwanted presents each year. I remember one Christmas competing with friends over ‘who got the worst present.’ There were some absolute shockers, but the outright winner had to be the man that was given a second-hand painting of a Hungarian Hussar! People really do hand over some weird gifts! So, it got me thinking: how much stuff do we get at Christmas that we don’t even want? When actually, we could give someone something they really need to unwrap without even given them a present. The invisible gifts of security, connection, wholeness and autonomy. Can we fulfil our own- or someone else’s’- primal human needs this Christmas?
We see Christmas as a unique time of craziness, when it’s often a reflection of our everyday lives, just in an exaggerated festive state, with baubles on! The festive season is a great time to become conscious of our behaviours and patterns and gives us the opportunity to acknowledge and connect with our fundamental needs. If you notice people getting annoyed on Christmas day, get curious, and find out which of their needs isn’t being met…
‘Tis the season for financial anxiety as according to the 2019 Bankrate Holiday Gifting Survey more than 6 out of 10 people told Bankrate they feel pressure to overspend on either presents, travel, social outings or charitable donations over the Christmas period. If you notice yourself- or a loved one- feeling stressed about money, get curious. Find out what the root cause of this stress might be. Because it may be that your sense of security is feeling threatened.
Abraham Maslow lists security as one of the basic human needs. And if we don’t feel secure, we can’t fully ascend to higher levels like love and self-actualisation (more of which later).
Many of us reach for external signs of security- money, good job, marriage- which means that our ability to ascend to the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy relies heavily on external factors. However, some of us aren’t given sufficient resources to satisfy these external security needs. And even if, right at this moment, we are satisfying those needs, many unknowable factors can threaten this ‘security blanket’- like redundancy and illness. So sometimes or even often getting our security needs met by chasing it externally isn’t actually our most secure option.
Some of the century’s most influential and surprising entrepreneurs do the opposite: they define security internally. They give themselves what psychologist Carl Rogers called an internal locus of control and don’t rely on external factors for their sense of security. Take Tony Robbins. He started his career washing his dishes in a bathtub because his apartment was so small it didn’t have a kitchen. He didn’t define security as needing X amount in the bank or having a certain size house or job title. He defined his security internally- and as a result, he was able to shift his attention towards a much more useful state for entrepreneurial pursuits: self-actualisation. His sense of security wasn’t reliant on unstable external factors; it was defined internally. And as a result, he ended up becoming one of the most successful life coaches on the planet.
Here are two ways you can shift towards an internally driven sense of security:
1. Self appreciate.
If your internal voice is critical and harsh – be aware and be kind to yourself.
2. Give yourself a heart hug…
…and stop asking your brain what you need. Ask your heart. Put your hand on your heart and create a loop back to yourself. Once you’ve created that loop, still with your hand on your heart, ask yourself what you should do. Not only will this regulate your breathing, it will also create a feedback loop to brain that ‘you are ok’ and as consequence will strengthen your internal locus of control.
Defining security internally is a healthier and more sustainable way of fulfilling this need because it’s not reliant on external factors. Money is, of course, an important resource but far more important is time. We can rebuild our finances. But we can’t buy back time. And if we spend the majority of our time chasing external factors, then we won’t have any time left for other more meaningful pursuits. Defining security externally creates an illusion of security and breeds a cycle of insecurity. Whereas defining security internally puts you back in the driver’s seat of your life.
So back to Christmas…maybe you can’t afford the most expensive gifts this year or maybe there’s a worry about what work you’ll get in 2020. All fair and valid concerns not to be disregarded but also, not necessarily needed to define your sense of security. Can you- like Tony Robbins- take the locus of control over your security and define it internally? And give yourself the gift of internal security this Christmas. Whilst it won’t make these problems go away it will enable you to satisfy your need for security and free you up to be much more connected and conscious with your loved ones over the festive period.
Also- think about how can you make somebody else feel safe and secure? Can you be clear about your plans for the day? Can you make somebody feel that you’ve got a part of the day planned and organised and in hand? Because that’s one of the most fundamental and most important gifts you can give anybody. What does your partner or loved one need to make them feel secure and safe with you?
I’m sure you’ve all heard a version of this story: a wife- who is hoping for a diamond bracelet- receives a vacuum cleaner, an iron or electronic scale for Christmas (yes- this one is surprisingly common!) One study showed that 37% of us have lied about liking a gift- with women ranking as the highest offenders with a shocking 45% versus 27% of men. If you find yourself hiding disappointment with an exaggerated smile this Christmas, then watch out for need no.2 not being met: are you feeling unloved or disconnected?
Connection is a fundamental human need. We are absolutely wired for connection. Yet, we’re not always good at meeting this need. In an article for ‘Forge Medium’, Brianna Wiest describes connection as: “the experience of oneness. It’s having shared experiences, relatable feelings, or similar ideas.” So, when your nearest and dearest buys you a rubbish (and perhaps insulting) gift, you may- understandably- find yourself feeling misunderstood and disconnected.
Thankfully, connection doesn’t just come in a fancy present with a bow on top. This- as with external signs of security- is a ‘show’ of connection. The real stuff is underneath. In the day-to-day moments that help to build a strong sense of tribe and trust. In order to maintain a healthy sense of connection, we must regularly ‘check-in’ with one another. Now we’re not talking about a once a year DMC (deep meaningful conversation), we’re referring to those everyday moments where you are present with your partner, friend or kids. When you see them where they are and find out how they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Right now. To quote Brene Brown: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
For example, if you know your partner struggles with some of your family’s nosey questions, a simple squeeze of the hand might be all it takes to reaffirm the connection between the two of you. A squeeze that says “I see you. I know how you’re feeling. We’ll get through this together.” The beauty of this is in its simplicity: it doesn’t involve buying an extravagant gift, writing a poem or going away on holiday. Your presence with your loved ones is what reaffirms the bonds of connection. So why not give the gift of connection this Christmas to your loved ones? It could be the simplest yet most substantial gift they get this year.
Do you return home at Christmas only to find yourself regressing into an outdated version of yourself? Perhaps you’ve made some radical changes over the past year and are feeling quite different in yourself, yet as soon as you walk through the front door of your childhood home…bam…you’re back to square one. If this sounds familiar, then you may be needing more of the 3rd primal human need we’re discussing today: wholeness. To quote Carl Jung: “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.” Ask yourself if there are parts of your ‘self’ that are wanting to surface, yet you don’t feel you can share because it feels out of line with ‘who you are’ within your family unit?
Say for example you’ve taken up stand-up comedy over the past year yet until this point you’ve occupied a more quiet, reserved role in the family. Can you bring a part of this ‘new you’ to the table and perhaps open up a space for others to share too? Perhaps your Mum has been focusing on being more than just ‘mum’ since all her kids flew the nest and has been busy involving herself with new hobbies and volunteer work. Can you encourage a more inclusive and open atmosphere this Christmas, so that people can bring more of themselves- and not just the role assigned to them within the family system- to the table?
Wholeness isn’t simply about showcasing the highlights in your life (like you might on your Instagram feed!) It’s about embracing all parts of your ‘self’ and the highs and the lows that are a part of being a human being. Maybe someone in your family is grieving the loss of a loved one this Christmas? Or perhaps a friend has recently lost their job? Can you be present with their pain and allow them to bring some of their whole self- as they are right now- to the party. Show them that they don’t have to wear a massive fake smile across their face to feel accepted and welcome around you. As Reboot Co-founder Dan Putt writes in his article ‘Wholeness, not Happiness’: “Happiness is just one part of our existence, wholeness is to embrace all that is within us. It’s to embrace our shadow qualities, to embrace our self-doubt, fear, anxiety, as well as the brightness, joy, and curiosity. It is all welcome. To welcome and embrace our wholeness, is to welcome and embrace all that makes us human. It is to allow our employees, and ourselves the full human experience. It is to allow ourselves to be human at work.” So, this Christmas let’s host with an attitude of wholeness as opposed to one that pushes happiness.
The final thing we all need this Christmas is autonomy. Which may seem contradictory to primal need no. 2: connection. However, what we’re looking for is a balance between interdependence and autonomy. And the latter is far too often overlooked and disregarded, particularly when it comes to Christmas parties and family get-togethers.
You may be familiar with the power struggles that happen between parents and children or siblings, due to invisible hierarchies that might be in place. For example, the person who is ‘hosting’ may take it upon themselves to take charge of the event. Whilst this may be coming from a sincere place of kindness and generosity, it may be stopping others from having an opinion about the menu or helping cook a dish. And guess what…people like to feel useful!!! So you don’t need to slave away in the kitchen by yourself. Get your kids involved in some way (however young or old), give them responsibility for a task and refrain from ‘back seat driving’ while they are doing it (otherwise you may give off the impression that you could have done it better and faster yourself.) And even if that’s true, what’s happening here is much bigger than the task at hand because you’ve gifted someone with autonomous action. You’ve given them a sense of importance and purpose at the event. So, it doesn’t matter if the potatoes aren’t cut exactly the way you like them, because the people at your party are what matter. Not the potatoes. And by delegating responsibility you’ll not only take some of the stress off your shoulders, you’ll also be giving others a sense of ownership and autonomy.
A study on the importance of psychological autonomy in children concluded that “the preparation for a life in a competitive world of other individual self-contained agencies is primed through individual psychological autonomy with an early emphasis on subjective wishes, intentions and preferences.” Autonomy is not a millennial luxury: it’s a fundamental need and if it’s not being met for you this Christmas then it will be affecting your ability to access other parts of yourself like your creativity, conscious intention and personal growth. Wayne Dyer talks about the power of ‘non-interference’ in parenting. In this article, titled ‘The Enlightened Parent’ Dyer asks: “do you want your children to behave only when you’re around, or do you want them to have the self-discipline to conduct themselves wisely whether you’re there or not? I’ve always believed that parents are not for leaning upon, but rather exist to make leaning unnecessary”.
If you find yourself in the opposite role as per the scenario above, whereby you are the guest to an over-attentive host, then see if you can come up with a creative way to give yourself more autonomy. If the host is insistent on controlling every detail in the kitchen then maybe you can keep the kids entertained so they don’t get in the way. Or perhaps you can take charge of setting up a game and explaining the rules to everyone. There will be many ways you can insert yourself into the day without stepping on someone’s shoes. To quote author and speaker Daniel Pink (who appeared on the 4D podcast back in May): “Autonomy is different from independence. It means acting with choice.”
Give someone something they really need this Christmas!
This Christmas, as you are sitting around opening gifts, think about the invisible gifts you can give to a family member, friend or colleague. It might not be something they’ve asked for but it’s definitely something they need. Because they are needs we ALL need! We all want to feel safe, connected, whole and purposeful and we need these needs satisfied in order to access our higher levels of self, like empathy, creativity, conscious intention even to be able to play and be spontaneous. Give yourself- and others- the gift of security, connection, wholeness and autonomy this Christmas and you’ll quickly forget about any rather pointless, weird or disappointing gifts. These gifts are greater than the external signs of Christmas and are the ones that will really make a difference this Christmas and throughout the New Year.
Wishing you all a conscious and connected Christmas and an intentional New Year. Lots of love Philippa and the 4D Team x