12/12/2012 12:54 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2013

It's Not About the Stuff

With incessant commercials for blowout sales and morning shows informing us about this holiday's "it" gifts, we are inundated with the message that giving stuff equals love.

There can be intense pressure to find the perfect present for friends and loved ones to accurately express our feelings for them. Are you pressured by family tradition to come up with a list of what you want for Christmas/Hanukkah/etc., even if you don't truly need or want anything? It is easy to get caught up in the consumer hype when it's all we see and hear from now until December 25.

But you can choose a different way of celebrating this year.

I gave up giving gifts at the holidays years ago. I don't express my feelings well with stuff, as it rarely accurately conveys how I feel. I value shared time and experiences. Since my three inherited sons and their growing families are scattered around the country, my husband and I happily share airline miles, gift them airfare, or rent a vacation place so we can all be together. When grand-babies are born (three so far), we start a stock account and add money as we can.

Making the heart connection by spending quality time with those we cherish is a gift to all of us. I have faith that during the holidays, the little kids, and the big ones for that matter, will get plenty of stuff from others, and I am grateful they don't expect it from us. They are also not surprised when a signed book they mentioned shows up in their mailbox in May or if we spontaneously surprise them with a trip or a nice meal at a restaurant for no occasion other than to be with them.

A couple years ago, I had a client struggling with the stuff-equals-love conundrum. She was a very dutiful, loving only child who walked into her appointment with me hysterically crying because she did not have the money to buy her parents an iPad for Christmas. I was trying to understand why she thought her parents would care if she bought them such a lavish gift, knowing she was in grad school and short on cash. Hoping to shift her perspective and knowing the answer, I asked her to honestly think about what kind of a daughter she is on a daily basis. "Are you kind, respectful, loving, and thoughtful most of the time?"

Because, ultimately, that is what life is truly about: how we treat people day in and day out, not just when a special occasion rolls around.

I am not implying that giving and receiving presents is "bad." I am suggesting there are deep and lasting gifts that you can consciously choose to give every day of the year that are totally free. For example, you can be understanding, forgiving, listen actively, and remember what people tell you. You can pick up the phone to check in when you know someone is struggling or engage an elderly grandparent in a conversation by asking them questions about their life and then generously listening for as long as they talk, even if you have heard the story a zillion times. You can admit when you're wrong and apologize promptly. You can handwrite letters of gratitude to those you love and send them though the mail (few things are more exciting than getting an actual letter like in the good ol' days!). These are just a few ideas of gifts from your heart that add lasting value and create joy for the receiver as well as the giver.

If you are tired of your holiday experience being too focused on stuff, I challenge you to do it differently this year. Concentrate on how kind, generous, and present you can be during the holidays. Set your intention on bringing light to others (and yourself) this season without spending a ton of money.

I would love to hear your ideas of ways to give from the heart, so please share your thoughts here.

Remember, the best gifts in life are (mostly) free.

Love Love Love

For more by Terri Cole, click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.