January 2022

Let’s play a game. What do these four things have in common?
A 200-page hardbound coffee table book about a clothing company, gift wrapped and delivered overnight by FedEx
A fancy package tied with yards of green silk ribbon containing Lucite coasters and a plaid blanket emblazoned with the name of a bank
A sleek, glossy packet holding a keychain and USB drive stick from a local car dealer
A luxury water bottle and travel mug embossed from a charity
The answer? These are gifts I received this holiday season.

They came from people who wanted to thank me for my purchase or my donation… and to make me feel somehow connected with their company.

I think I’m supposed to be grateful, but TBH, these gifts didn’t have the desired effect.

In fact, they pissed me off.

The “givers” weren’t thinking of me at all. They were sending self-promotion dressed in gift packaging. If I used the swag (and who uses bank-branded lucite coasters?), I’d become a non-paid advertiser for their business. Adding salt to the wound is the knowledge that they probably used some of the money I spent or donated to pay for it.

I plan on regifting anything that might help someone in need, and throwing the rest in recycling.

Fortunately, my gift interactions weren’t a total bust.

* * *

One brand sent a gift card for me to get something for myself as a percentage of what I’d spent. It was a great way of getting me to shop with them again, but it had true value without making me a shill.

A number of websites I visited did even better. They offered to make contributions toward things that matter to me: donating carbon credits or making charitable gifts based on my purchase. One site even spelled out the exact effect, “this gift provides two chemotherapy treatments” and “20% of proceeds will be donated to St. Jude.” I loved that one.

This leads me to talk about real gifts.

In contrast to brazen drops of unwanted swag and the material nature of the holiday season in general, there were some thoughtful surprises.

Not only were friends and family exceedingly creative, they came up with presents that were, in my opinion, what all gifts should be: a way for someone who cares about me to say, “I know you and I know what matters to you.” They contained no ulterior motives or attempts to buy my favor (although who doesn’t treasure the first iPad “painting” ever made by her granddaughter, turned into an NFT and linked to a charity supporting female artists of color? OK, son-in-law, you got brownie points for that one).

Most importantly after two years in isolation and the ongoing shadow of Omicron, the material component of the holiday season gave way to something much deeper.

It was the presence and not the presents that moved me.

* * *

While previous holidays have been clouded with a focus on the material, the clarity of the past couple of years allowed me to see that people and connection matter most.

Yes, the death of my father dialed up that truth. So did the isolation and distance forced by Covid which diminished our ability to spend time together as a family. The lack of physical presence at Parlay House reduced connections to one way “talks.” And don’t even get me started on the void I feel being so far away from friends.

But I felt the presence that came from many people in my life who intentionally checked in, shared their truth and gave me space to share mine. They were “there for me” even when they couldn’t be “there with me.” That meant far more than what might, in past years, have been obscured by the gift of a book, a candle or Gustav Klimt themed socks.

My Grand Prize Gift of the Year Award goes to the ultimate act of being present…..

A Hug.

Science has shown that hugs lasting 20 seconds or more release oxytocin which not only boosts the immune system and reduces stress, it creates a stronger bond between the huggers. I can’t think of a better gift than that.

I didn’t get many hugs this year for obvious reasons. But the ones I safely received are still with me, keeping the endorphins and my spirit in a much-needed high.

Moving forward, I’m going to base my gift giving on a new measure that I’m calling the hug economy. It trades on the currency of presence, is accelerated by togetherness and has unrealized value that, through its exchange, will make each of us a little richer in the most meaningful way.

* * *

Still too early to begin a cascade of hugging? It’s not too early to talk about it:

Share it Small: Do it virtually! While the endorphin high might not be the same, letting people know you wish you could hug them (as long as it comes without sexual innuendo or social discomfort) is a way of saying how close you feel to someone else or the impact that they have on you.

Share it Big: Give yourself a hug on camera and dedicate it to a loved one you want to share it with by tagging them online. It might start an endorphin rush through the ether and be a bridge that carries you until you can actually hold each other for 20 seconds or more and feel your collective energy rise.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a breakthrough, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.