Gift-giving during Christmas time has become a worrisome experience for many people. Practically everyone is trying to figure out, “What should I get so-and-so for Christmas? What will make him happy? Hmmm, maybe a bicycle . . . a DVD . . . a new shirt . . . or a pen. Something . . . some thing.” People visit a shopping center, look at all the display windows and wonder, “Humm, will that make her happy?”

Some individuals can’t decide all the way to the last minute. They don’t really know what’s going to make people happy, so they put off buying gifts until the last minute. Then during the last two days before Christmas, they join this big rush in the department stores where they just end up buying whatever. They guess, “Oh well, maybe this will make him happy. I’ll just give him this. Since I spent enough money on it, it’s bound to satisfy him because after all the more expensive it is, the more satisfying it’s supposed to be to whoever gets it. Right?”

In the attempt to satisfy people during Christmas, most people go off and try to get so many things without really knowing what’s going to make individuals happy. Of course, this is not a very wise thing. After all, the idea behind gift-giving is to succeed in making people happy. But to know what will make persons happy, we have to first find out who they are or what they are.

For instance, when you go off and try to buy a gift for someone, you think of the person first: “What would he like? What does he need? What does he do? What are his likes and dislikes?” If he’s a basketball player, he might like a ball. If he’s a stamp collector, he might like stamps. A woman might like a bracelet or dress.

You think of the person. You think of who he is, then you think of what you should give him. Certainly, you don’t give a basketball player boxing gloves or a boxer a basketball.

Now what we’re suggesting is that you look even deeper into people’s identity. See that in reality, all these external identities that you might be thinking people are is not what they really are. We’re not really basketball players, boxers, women or men even. These are all temporary material identities. We are not the material body; we’re the eternal living beings within these temporary bodies. Our real identity is we’re spirit souls who are children of the Supreme Soul.

Unfortunately, most people perceive only people’s temporary material identity and therefore wrongly conclude that material things will make people truly happy. Especially at Christmas, people give so many material gifts in an attempt to make others happy. During Christmas time, material things are put in boxes and made to look very special. These gifts are nicely covered up to cause people to wonder, “Oh, what is in those little boxes under the tree?” In this way, people anticipate and want to enjoy whatever are in the boxes.

Gift-wrapped emptiness means that actually the only content of those nicely wrapped packages is emptiness. There’s nothing of real substance there. It's just dead matter—material particles come together—which in due course of time will eventually fall apart. So, there’s only dead matter in packages and it won’t make anyone really happy. Why? Because we’re not dead matter; we’re not material. Thus, material things will not make us happy.

For example, when I was a kid, I made a point of opening all the presents under the Christmas tree every Christmas morning. But before I opened a package from someone, I’d think, “This will make me happy.” After I opened it, I’d feel so excited and go, “Well, this is really nice.” But not more than thirty seconds later, I get the feeling, “Is that all?” I'd put down the gift and go to another package, hoping, “Maybe this will make me happy.” But the same thing happened, and I'd have to go to the next package to see what was in there, to see if that present would make me happy. Pretty soon, all the packages were open. I'd have all these presents sitting around me and I’d still not be happy. I’d then think, “I should be happy because of all the things that I now have. But I’m not. Isn’t happiness in having all these little things?”

In the Bible, it is stated:

While we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporary but the things which are not seen are eternal.
–2 Corinthians 4.16,18
Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.
–Colossians 3.1-2

We cannot be made truly happy by any material thing because we are not matter. We are not material; we are not the body; we are not the mind. We are the eternal spirit souls or living entities within these material bodies. We are the life force, not the body.

Thus, if we just get material things, because we’re not material, such material things cannot satisfy us.

…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable.
–1 Corinthians 15.40

Now as soon as we understand that we are actually sparks of God, children of God, then we will conclude that what will really make us happy, and therefore the best thing that a person can give us, is something that has to do with our spiritual nature.

For instance, if I can give you for Christmas or any time, the gift of understanding that you are eternal—you’re not temporary; your body can die but you cannot die—then I am giving you the gift of freedom from anxiety. In other words, I’m making it so that you don’t need to be in anxiety about death of the body. If I give you the understanding that you’re the eternal part and parcel of God, then this will make you actually happy. If I give you the gift of letting you know that God loves you unconditionally, that you can have Him as your Best Friend, and that He will actually give you protection—take good care of you—then that is the greatest gift I can give you. If I can help you become attached to God, then that is actually the only thing I can give that will make you happy. Anything other than that will not make you happy. No one can be truly happy with anything other than God.

QUESTION: How about a person who thinks that if people love him, then they will give him a gift that will make him happy?

JAGAD GURU: This is quite natural. We all want to be happy. But unfortunately, sometimes a person thinks, “If so-and-so loves me, then that person will give me some material gift. He will give me a new this or a new that. And if he doesn’t give these material things to me, then this proves that he doesn’t really love me.”

For example, at Christmas time, the child thinks, “If so-and-so loves me, then he’ll give me things that will make me happy.” But if a parent doesn’t give a kid what he thought he was going to get or if the kid wanted something more than what the parents bought him, then sometimes the child will say, “Maybe my parents don’t love me. They didn’t give me what I wanted, so this shows that they don’t really care about my happiness!”

And so, people often feel obligated to go out and give other people material gifts. They feel they have to buy a person things in order to prove to him, “Yes, I do love you.” They’re feeling obligated, “I can’t afford it but I’m going to do it because if I don’t, then this person will think I don’t love him.” So, this whole mentality exists.

Now this is all based on people thinking, “If so-and so loves me, then this person will give me something material or that which costs a lot of money. This is the measure of their love.” And this in turn is based on the idea, “Material things will make me happy. Therefore, if so-and-so loves me then he will give me this material thing because he is supposed to want me to be happy.”

But again, we must make this simple point: material things will not make us really happy. Therefore, these material gifts have nothing to do whatsoever with actual love.

Someone may love you and he may not give you anything material; and someone may not love you and he may give you all kinds of material things. For example, the greatest lover of all of us, who is usually forgotten at Christmas time, is Lord Jesus Christ. He is the perfect example of someone who loves all of us. He loves every one of us unconditionally and he is giving us the greatest gift. He is teaching us that we should love God and that love will make us happy. He is giving us perfect knowledge of our identity and relationship with God. So Jesus Christ is the perfect example of someone who’s giving us nothing material at all and yet he loves us more than anyone else. So if we study the example of Jesus Christ, then we’d understand what actual love is, what actual giving is, and what actual caring for others is.

If we want to give the greatest gift, then we should understand that Jesus is giving the greatest gift; we should follow in his footsteps and also pass on this gift. We should give the greatest gift—love for God—to others. This is the real present.

QUESTION: What about a person who thinks that actual concern involves giving material gifts? He may want others and himself to be happy but he just doesn’t know what will make people really happy.

JAGAD GURU: Of course, some individuals are simply in ignorance about these things. A parent, for instance, who has a drug-addicted child may say, “Son, we tried to get you everything. We got you a car, clothes, a wonderful house and so many luxuries in life. Now why are you doing this?” The child is simply sitting there shooting heroin. The parent may be concerned with the happiness of the child but the parent just doesn’t know what will make the kid happy. So, the parent should learn from Jesus what the real gift is, what actual love and concern means.

Actual love and concern means teaching people who they really are—that they are not the body, that they’re eternal spirit souls; teaching people that they’ll be happy if they develop their love for God; teaching people to sing and chant the names and glories of the Supreme Person; teaching people to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and in this way actually glorify Jesus during Christmas time.

If we realize that Jesus loves us and he’s not giving us anything material, then we will also realize that the whole idea that if someone loves me, then he’ll give me some new bicycle or object, doesn’t have anything to do with real love, real giving, or real concern.

Jesus has given us the greatest gift. Now the question is whether we will receive and pass on this gift or buy from the merchants and give away gift-wrapped emptiness. This is a question people should seriously consider this Christmas season.