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Longings and Belongings: Gift-Giving Reflections

Children welcoming grandparents at the doorway during the holidays

Getty/monkeybusinessimages

The gift-giving season is almost here, but that doesn't mean purchasing more “stuff” for your loved ones. “I’ll be focusing more on relationships than commodities, more on longings than belongings.”

Advertising and displays are telling me that it’s almost gift-giving season. But before I jump into a gift-buying dash, I want to think a little more deeply about what gift-giving is all about. Robin Wall Kimmerer devotes an entire chapter in her book Braiding Sweetgrass to a discussion about the gift of strawberries. She speaks lovingly of wild strawberries as unexpected gifts “all wrapped in red and green.” She notes how wild strawberries—like so many other gifts from the natural world—are truly gifts, not commodities.

Kimmerer wraps her discussion about gifts around the idea of connections. A true gift, she says, creates an ongoing relationship. Can I take this idea and make gift giving a little more meaningful this year? Kimmerer differentiates between a gift exchange and an exchange of commodities. She also talks about longings. Commodities are things that can be bought and sold. Once we buy a commodity, it becomes something we own. We add it to our collection of belongings. With Kimmerer’s help, I’m now thinking about a possible connection between longings and belongings. We buy something; it belongs to us—or we give it to someone as a gift, and they add it to their belongings. To what extent do longings and belongings match? This question has, I believe, a lot to do with meaningful gift-giving.

Going back to Kimmerer, she says that a true gift creates an ongoing relationship. She notes how the gift of wild strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, hickory nuts, and wildflowers helped her forge a relationship with the fields where they grew. These natural gifts also helped her forge relationships with her family. Kimmerer’s father loved strawberry shortcake. Picking wild strawberries and making strawberry shortcake was a Father’s Day tradition in which the whole family participated. The strawberry shortcake—along with the family’s involvement in preparing it—was, according to Kimmerer’s father, the best possible gift. This gift wasn’t something the family could buy; it wasn’t a commodity. The gift of strawberry shortcake was invaluable in strengthening relationships. While the strawberry shortcake was certainly delicious, the true value of the gift met a deeper longing—the longing to belong, to be in relationship.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow suggests that belonging is one of our basic human needs. While he recognized that our basic needs include certain physical requirements (food, water, shelter), he never suggested that we need belongings. He did emphasize, however, the importance of belonging.

With guidance from Kimmerer and Maslow, I now feel ready to approach gift-giving a little differently this year. I know what to avoid: a commodity exchange. I know what to focus on: longings and relationships. Just adding to someone else’s belongings won’t increase their happiness or strengthen our relationship. No one wants more stuff, that’s not what people really long for. We long for connections or relationships. We want to belong.

How am I going to strengthen relationships—the feeling-bond—during this season of gift-giving? That’s the question on my mind. I don’t have the answer yet. But, as I try to figure it out, I’ll be focusing more on relationships than commodities, more on longings than belongings.

Keep reading: “Giving Thanks for Giving Thanks


About the Author

Ruth Wilson

Ruth Wilson, Ph.D., is a retired educator who now works with the Children and Nature Network as curator of the Research Library. 

She also devotes her time to writing and consulting, especially on issues relating to children and nature. Wilson has written several books and numerous articles on these and other topics relating to the way humans interact with the rest of the natural world.

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HolidaysGiftsRelationshipsFamilyGiving

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