Heading into a holiday season that is as much about showing love to others as it is about the virgin birth of a Messiah, this seems like an opportune time to explore the idea of showing and experiencing love. A few months ago, I finally read the “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, and while I had known about the concept for years, reading the book illustrated just how helpful the idea has been and how applicable it is for everyday life.
Love is a human need. We were all created with an ingrained desire to feel appreciated, respected, known and admired. Sometimes that need makes us do unpredictable and uncharacteristic things like changing our appearance, moving across the country, enduring the holidays with our families, or denying the dream in our hearts. Whether you grew up showered with loving gestures or spent most of your childhood yearning for positive affection, love is a powerful motivator. Though there are countless stories of individuals who overcame their challenging circumstances to do incredible things, if given the choice I think we would all choose to live our lives being loved and appreciated. How much easier is it to take steps to build an amazing future, make important decisions, sacrifice, work hard, thrive, when you are attempting all of that from a place of adoration?!
The brilliance of the 5 Love Languages is in its discussion of the way we each experience love. While this is a concept that I think most of us have felt and observed nebulously, Gary gives the idea words and explains it in a practical way.
Here are the basics:
For some words of affirmation are the most loving gesture. If you want to show your appreciation and affection, making statements or writing notes about their achievements and traits that you admire will be most meaningful. Some people feel most loved when show love through physical touch. They thrive on hugs and pats on the back, respond well to a hand on their shoulder or a high five, and need many more than the “7 loving touches” rule. Others experience love most through receiving gifts. These folks know that you care when you bring home special treasures from work or vacation, and gift giving holidays are especially important to them. The size of the gift doesn’t matter, the important thing is that you love them enough to spend time, energy and/or money on finding something that they would enjoy. There are others who live for acts of service. They feel the love when someone else does a dreaded chore for them, thinks to help when they are busy with a task, or surprises them by doing something from their “to do” list. The last way that people feel love is through quality time. For individuals who value this, hanging out, a quiet cup of coffee, or joining in on whatever they are doing will be most effective at showing your love.
These are the “love languages”. Most people identify with one or two of these more strongly than the others, and for some folks the way that the feel most loved from others is not the way that they share love most strongly. If you think about yourself you probably can pretty quickly identify the way that you would most like to experience someone’s love or admiration of you, and your favorite way to give love. I’ve found it hugely helpful and liberating to know this about myself. While I enjoy gifts, and help with the chores like everyone else, if someone wants to really show me their love, all it takes is sitting on a couch and letting me talk during a movie! You don’t have to clean my toilet, just share a pot of tea. Using this knowledge about myself also let me in on a secret about my happiness level. If I find myself feeling a bit down, wanting to eat my feelings, more frustrated with my coworkers and husband than usual, I think about the last time I had quality time with a friend, my mom or the man. My “love-tank” gets pretty empty after about a week. I’m really excited for you to experience the relief, excitement and fulfillment that you get from being able to say “Honey, I am not angry, I just need some quality time with you. Let’s go grab a chai.”, or “Girl, let’s get together I need a hug!”. Seriously. Life changing.
It’s not enough to know your own love language and use that to your advantage though. There are billions of other people out there who could benefit from your new area of study, and they all have a specific way that they feel most loved. You’ll be surprised with the result if you get out there and figure out what that is! Start with the folks closest to you, and move outward. This is as much a challenge for me as it is for you, but I have already seen the benefit in my own life.
The Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza) season is here, so just accept that if you’ve been in denial. For most of us this month is a mad dash from store to store to the kitchen to work to another store, looking for gifts. Only the most impressive and in tune amongst us seem to have a well thought out plan for the perfect gift for everyone. Usually we all spend hours wandering around stores picking things up and wondering if anyone would like it. This always seems like a really terrible way to go about it, but with all the other things going on in December, what other option do we have?
This year I’m trying something different. Gift-giving in a way that will actually show the recipients love in a way that most connects for them. Should I give my dad another pair of socks or my mom earrings for the tenth year in a row, if those are just things that they will appreciate and enjoy, but won’t really make them feel loved?
The last few years I have been disappointed on Christmas…
Before you decide that I’m horrible and stop reading forever, just sit back down.
We get together as a family and we all spend hours opening gifts together. Tons of gifts! Extravagant gifts that are incredible, tiny things that people sought out and purchased with me in mind, even things that people have spent an entire year hiding in a closet to share with me on this day. And I love them all! I appreciate each thoughtful trinket and article of clothing, every colorful piece of jewelry and special snack. I will use them gleefully and think of that person and feel loved. I am extremely grateful for every single one of the gifts that my family and friends have given me during this beautiful and sacred time of year. I love getting presents! And yet, by afternoon on Christmas I usually start feeling a bit let down. Now yes, part of it is because Christmas is over. The thing that we’ve decorated for, saved and shopped for, waited for all year has come to an end in one short morning. But it’s more than that. Only in thinking about the love languages did I come to a realization…
The celebration of Christmas is one big segment of quality time, my love language, but once the gift opening is over, what else is there? The shopping dates with friends are over, the nights spent snuggled in front of the couch watching White Christmas and wrapping presents won’t come again for a whole year. Sure, there are usually a few events left in the Christmas season after the official holiday, but not many. That feeling of disappointment isn’t because I’m greedy for more, because I’m ungrateful for what I have, or because the people giving things to me didn’t show me their love with all those gifts! Maybe the disappointment is because my favorite gift was spending the holiday season enjoying their company, and now that they have given me that most extravagant gift, it’s going away. I’m not blue because no one got me anything wonderful and amazing, I’m blue because they filled my heart to overflowing with my favorite kind of gift and I don’t get to have it forever…
My favorite gifts have always been movies, date nights, coupons for shopping trips, and promises of quality time in the future. I always thought that it was because those are things that you do, but I think it’s really because they are things that I can do with others. (I also love getting books but I’m gonna say that it’s because that’s quality time with me, which is totally a thing that we all need.)
This year I challenge you to work to find the specific love language of each individual on your shopping list, if you can. Would they find the most love in a coupon book for massages? Do they spend hours marveling at all the gifts that were thoughtfully purchased for them, admiring each one? Like me, would they feel your appreciation most strongly with a gift card to Starbucks and a promise that you’ll go together? How can you make/find/buy a gift that will show them love in the most expressive and meaningful way for them? Maybe a collection of notes from all of their loved ones would share enough love to fill their love tank for a month! In this special season, and throughout the rest of the year, give the ultimate gift and figure out what makes the people around you tick. You’ll be amazed at how much more love you can pass on to someone with one gift that speaks their love language than 10 that are just wonderful gifts.
I’m excited to hear what you learn and how the love in your life blooms ❤
This is just one different take on the Christmas tradition of gift giving. Stay tuned here for more holiday musings and ways to maximize all that this time of year celebrates!