The holidays are over and with them the most prolific gift-giving season of the year. From clothes to shoes to books to plane tickets, everyone has something new to flaunt. But of all the gifts that have been exchanged on campus and off, the best gift I received for the holidays was a lemon. There were no neatly tucked wrapping-paper corners, no bow, no ceremonious unwrapping, just a fragrant, bright yellow citrus from a garden in Arizona.
Compared to a watch or a check or book, a lemon, in and of itself, is not special. Quite the opposite, in fact — “when life gives you lemons…” things could generally be better. But when a friend remembers you jokingly asking if he could bring something back from his garden and hands you a lemon from home, you can’t help but smile.
I do not think we give gifts often enough. We save them for momentous occasions, birthdays, holidays, when they should be a feature of our daily lives. Why not make the entire year a time for gift-giving? You might object and say that what makes gifts special is their rarity — if gifts were given all the time, they might lose some of their appeal. Consider: What if the value of a gift was not tied to the rarity of the act of giving but rather to the singularity of the care behind it?
Every thoughtful gift, no matter how small or how common, entails an intention unlike any other. Don’t underestimate the magnitudes a small gift can contain. A song recommendation, a bookmark, a piece of fruit — sometimes all it takes is a “Have a great day! :)” on a post-it note stuck to the door to make the day great. It’s not the piece of paper or the ink on it that makes a difference: It’s that someone had the thought.
As a matter of fact, our definition of what makes a gift is often too narrow. We tend to think of gifts as things more than moments and not as small gestures. Sharing a poem — “it made me think of you” — is a gift in its own right. A snack and a warm cup of tea silently placed on a corner of the desk when you’re working, a note, a dad joke, a hug are all acts of giving, and we should think of them as such.
The goal of these is not to receive something in return. It is only to show care, to brighten someone’s day, to make sure someone is doing okay — and that is enough to make a huge difference.
So, for a new year’s resolution, maybe we could all try to give more gifts, of the small kind, and recognize the ones we receive. It doesn’t take much to be happier and share that with people around you. If life hands you a lemon, smile — things have just gotten sweeter.
Contact Axelle Marcantetti at axellem ‘at’ stanford.edu.