If your gift exchange obligations have you feeling trapped, try sending your friends good tidings, which can be just as meaningful as any present

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Christmas is next month. What do you advise about gift giving or even re-gifting? I’m feeling overwhelmed with the complexities and obligations that come with the holidays and look forward to any advice on this.

Gift giving can be stressful, invoking many conflicting values. About 10 years ago, the holiday season felt more like a chore than a joy to me, so I wanted to make a drastic change. Over the years, I got caught up in reciprocating every gift I received and even went as far as making sure that I had generic gifts on hand for the unexpected gifts that always came in. I eventually felt trapped in gift exchange hell, diminishing the joy of the holiday season.

Getting honest with myself

When I reflected upon the situation, I realized that I needed to change, but tradition, obligations and more weighed heavily on me. I finally got the courage to do what many people secretly may want but don’t have the wherewithal to do: I wrote a loving letter to all of my friends, and, in a graceful way, said that I would no longer be celebrating the holiday season by giving gifts. I would be sending them good tidings and best wishes instead, because I already felt blessed with their friendship and presence in my life. I encouraged them to spend on their family and loved ones any time, money and energy they would have spent on me.

Relief and freedom


After my initial guilt was diminished by the positive comments I received from my friends, I felt relieved! It was one of the best things I ever did for myself. This is not to say that I won’t get a gift for someone if I am inspired to do so (and I often am), but it freed me from the stress of obligatory gift giving.

This may not be for everyone, as our lives are difficult and complex, and the obligation to buy gifts on special occasions is deeply rooted in our society and culture. Some of you may even be thinking, “I could never do that.” I encourage you to try it with at least the “outer edges” of your friendships and acquaintances and set a new standard, especially if you want relief from some of the stress of holiday gift giving.

Do you need to declutter your gift list?

I was surprised at how many people responded positively, telling me that they were thankful for the suggestion and the letter I recommended. In my line of work, I always try to help people find what is true for them, sometimes suggesting that they have to do things that are challenging, because the result will be worth it.


What types of gifts are good?

If you wish to purchase a gift, but are not sure what the right one is, giving an “experience” makes a great gift and shows that you care. Here are some ideas:

• Movie tickets or tickets to a special event that you know they will enjoy.


• A home cooked meal or a meal at a nice restaurant • A letter of appreciation written privately or declared publicly. • A gift of your time to do something with them – lunch, help on a project or something you feel they would really appreciate.

Of course, I’m sure you can come up with dozens more personal ideas, but this is a start.

When to give gifts

Most of us give gifts on birthdays or holidays, but you can also make gift giving a spontaneous event that has nothing to do with the holidays. Giving gifts “just because” is a wonderful way to show someone you care. Now that I no longer buy holiday gifts, I often find myself purchasing something for someone when the “perfect” gift shows up, regardless of the occasion. It’s wonderful and I love seeing the joy on a friend’s face when an unexpected gift is given.

What to do with unwanted gifts

When we end up with gifts we neither want, like nor need, they tend to get stored in a closet, until the purchaser comes to visit, at which point we may remember to place it in a visible space. Most people have a problem re-gifting or donating gifts, because they believe it will be a personal affront to the purchaser.

Re-gifting is risky, as it can end up with the very person who gave it to you or someone close to that person. Re-gift as long as you are certain that you are not re-gifting to the original purchaser and that the person who receives it would really like it. If you do not re-gift, you can always donate to a charitable organization or thrift shop. Ultimately, gift giving should be unconditional, without expectation, and you should be able to do with a gift what you wish.

How do you get better gifts?


This is an easy one. Tell people what you want, even if you want nothing. Send the standard for what you expect and desire and it will make it easier for others who have you on their list.

Alice Inoue is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happiness U, an educational establishment at Gentry Pacific Center on Nimitz Highway. Learn things about life that were never taught in school about how to be happy. Happiness U offers classes such as Feng Shui 101, Clutter Clearing Plan 101, Positive Mindset 101, Happiness 101 and more. Visit www.YourHappinessU.com for more information.