I can always tell when its happening. It’s never all at once. It doesn’t knock on the door to announce its arrival. Instead, a few little annoying things pop up here and there. I get an eye twitch that won’t go away. I notice that my jaw is clinched … and can’t remember when it wasn’t. My mind races through a continual loop of an unwritten to-do list, picking up straggling tasks along the way. I start snapping at my family. That’s when I realize what I’m doing: I’m treating a gift like a burden.
I first heard the mantra, “Don’t treat a gift like a burden” during The Happier Podcast, where a listener submitted it as a Happiness Hack. As with most things that end up being supremely useful, I didn’t understand its power right away. In some cases it takes repeated reminders and gentle nudging toward enlightenment. In my case, it usually requires a dramatic slap across the face with reality, punctuated with a Moonstruck-style “Snap out of it!”
It is the most recent gift wrapped by yours truly in burden-themed paper that opened my eyes to the absurdity of it all. Elena is going to Spain.
It is a trip that has come together quite hastily (which is red flag numero uno in the Watch Angie Lose Her Marbles playbook). Earlier this spring, plans were under way for her to go to Spain with my mother this summer. My dad became ill and the trip was postponed until next summer. Then: another gift. My dad is well again. Who knows what another year will bring? Better to go know, Pinterest trip planning timeline and airfares be damned. Last week tickets were purchased. Abuela and granddaughter leave in less than 2 weeks.
There is a flurry of things that must happen before any trip. An international trip adds another element of preparation. Throw in an already full schedule between now to add an additional layer. Sending your firstborn across an ocean without you for the first time is the frosting that binds my own cake of crazy together. That’s how I found myself the other day standing in my kitchen, jaw clinched, eye a-twitching, snapping at an innocent bystander (Eli), with my mind spinning. Do I need more wire hangers and change for this weekend’s garage sale? Did I enter my mom’s passport number wrong when I made the reservation? Must purchase gifts for Elena to take to relatives in Spain. Is that a flea on the dog? Was that client meeting this Tuesday or next Tuesday?
All gifts. All cleverly disguised as burdens in my mind.
Yes, my to-do list has grown. Because my father is well enough that my mother feels able to leave the country and visit her family. And she is graciously taking her granddaughter. Because we have the means to buy enough things that I need a garage sale to get rid of the things we don’t need. Because I have a dog that brings me immense joy and lays his head in my lap. Because I have a client that wants my services.
We’re told to be wary of gifts that come with strings attached, but often life’s best gifts come tied up with string. Deep friendships require effort. The home you love needs upkeep. Children ooze love and sometimes vomit. Traveling to far off places means adding a few more tasks to a to-do list. The strings are there, and must be untied to get to the good stuff. When you feel the stress building, ask yourself: is this really a problem? Or is there a gift wrapped up in there? Don’t treat the gift as the burden.