Decry the commercialism and bemoan the perils of mindless consumption, but the holiday season’s focus on gift-giving offers its own kind of gift.

It’s a joy to be surprised and delighted by a gift someone has given me. But it’s a greater joy to be the one offering the surprise and delight.

You can look at your gift list as a burdensome chore. Or you can see it as an opportunity to try to connect with your family and friends in a meaningful way. A mindful gift-giver will attempt to see through the eyes of those they’re giving to. 

What does my nephew love? What would inspire my wife, and how can I delight my kids? Instead of just going through the motions and checking off the gift list with whatever, make the effort to understand the people on your list just a little better. Inhabit their imagination for a moment. Ask good questions, directly or indirectly. Be a bit of a sleuth in pursuing clues that will unlock a bit of the mystery of your recipients’ wiring — their yearnings and inclinations and even their worries. 

It’s easy to fall into the pattern of giving just exactly what has been asked for, or, worse, what you want them to have. The golden rule will let you down here. Don’t give to others what you like given to you. Instead, give in a way that uniquely delights the recipient, a way that might even disappoint if you were the recipient. I was that guy that, because I love books, would give books, even to people who I knew never read, hoping that my gift would be the one to change everything. I could see the disappointment as they were realizing the wrapped present in their hands was another book from me. 

I’m not saying this mindful approach to gift-giving isn’t hard. It is. And I usually fall short or miss the mark completely. (Occasionally, though, magic happens.) But the attempt is worthwhile and is a challenging way to connect you a little more closely to those who matter most in your life. 

The game is afoot. Giving the gift — the gift of your presence and attention and thoughtfulness — is the thing.