Dear Annie: Lots of people need nothing, but everyone wants something. If you ask someone directly, “What do you want for Christmas/your birthday/the holidays?” then they’ll probably say, “Nothing.” Or “Save your money.” So don’t ask. Just pay attention.
I learned from my older sister that if you watch and listen, you’ll easily think of a gift they’ll love. You might notice they don’t have a covered serving dish, have never heard of a blender bottle or haven’t gotten around to framing a special poster. Perhaps they will mention loving a particular theater, from which you can order tickets.
Last Christmas, when my sister was talking about an upcoming Baltic cruise, a light bulb went on. I drove to a currency exchange kiosk in the mall and bought her seven different countries’ worth of pocket money. The whole gift cost me less than $100. She was thrilled, and I was thrilled to have learned from the GGGOAT: greatest gift-giver of all time.
— For the Person Who Has Everything
Thank you for pointing out how we learn more from observing people — watching what they do rather than what they say. And it is also outstanding because the best gift you can give someone is to hear them. It is not just your physical presence but also your mental awareness, really listening to what they say and how they say it. Congratulations on cracking an important code in relationships; namely, the gift of listening. Your sister sounds very wise, and so do you.
Dear Annie: You gave wonderful advice to “One Concerned Brother” about gently appreciating and helping his 90-year-old sister who chooses to continue taking care of her livestock. Cherishing the sweet twilight years is easier if caring people can understand what’s really important, and your advice will help get that across. So many dear hearts get institutionalized to help them be “safe.” And by doing so, many older people lose their independence and what makes them unique.
— Don’t Break Their Hearts to Save Them
Dear Don’t Break
Their Hearts: Thank you for your kind letter. Doing what we love, and having a reason or purpose to get up in the morning each day, keeps all of us healthier at any age.
Dear Annie: It’s a pretty sad sight when visiting coffee shops and restaurants these days.
Here’s a typical scenario: an older couple sitting at a breakfast table, not talking to each other. They are having conversations on their phones, messaging away. Breakfast is served, but they continue texting. After eating, it’s the same thing.
Then you have the younger couple nearby, texting away, putting their legs on nearby chairs. They stop to order food, and then it’s back to texting or scrolling. Breakfast or dinner is served, and they are still texting. After eating, they’re still at it.
My question is, why come together if there is no communication whatsoever?
— Flipped Out Flip Phone User
Dear Flip Phone User:
You paint a grim picture of restaurants today. While it is true that some couples pay more attention to their phones than to each other when eating out, there are plenty of us who prefer to talk to our dining companions.
When you pay attention to the person opposite you at a table, it is easy to ignore others in the restaurant and not be bothered by their ridiculous behavior. Plus, behavior can be catching. If you choose to pay more attention to your partner than your phone — or than to the diners around you — then others might choose to do the same.