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Ah, the search for that perfect gift. The one that will light up his or her face, the one that will never be returned or regifted. It’s that time of year again when we know we should be celebrating the joy of the season but we’re stretching our budgets and our time, trying to make sure every person on our list gets from us what they want, what they expect or what they only dreamed of.

We usually end up feeling like we just couldn’t be enough things to enough people which leaves us fetched up on the eve of the New Year too exhausted to make resolutions, let alone keep them, and so deep in debt our first resolution has to be to work harder to pay off the credit cards before next December rolls around.

Not to sound like a cheesy ad for a cosmetic dentist but did you ever consider giving a smile? Doesn’t cost much (unless you’re shopping for the perfect smile instead of the perfect gift), doesn’t take but a second, and it doesn’t need fancy gift wrapping.

When I was very young and very naïve I had a little game I played. It was called “what will it take to make you smile?” I smiled at everyone I met, and sometimes that was all it took. Sometimes it took a little conversation, sometimes it took more than one encounter. But I was out to prove I could make anybody smile.

In my early 20’s I worked at an accounting office in Lawrence, Kansas. The partners all knew about my little game and they told me they knew one client that I could never win against – he would never smile for me or anyone else. This client picked up his accounting every month but he never came in, he just pulled up out front and honked and you had to walk his reports out to his van. He never joked, he never chatted, he never even cracked a smile.

I said, “wanna bet?”

For months I walked out to the van, accounting reports in hand. And for months Dr. B refused to smile. A vet who often had his dogs in the van with him, I thought he might warm up if I let him know how much I shared his love of animals. He thawed a little when he saw that his dogs liked me, but he didn’t smile.

From July to November I played my game, losing to his straight face every month but never giving up. Then came December.

December in an accounting firm is the brink of crazyness. Between month end accounting, year end accounting and gearing up for the impending tax season, holiday parties are an afterthought at best. So I hadn’t even noticed that Dr. B’s accounting was sitting on the shelf. And I certainly wasn’t prepared to look up from my desk and see him standing in the doorway, leaning heavily on a cane and holding a holiday tin in the other hand. He limped slowly to my desk and held out the tin.

He said he wanted me to know how much my cheerfulness meant, especially that last summer when his gout was the worst and he hurt all the time and was embarrassed to try to walk because it was so hard. And he said the chocolates weren’t much but he hoped I had a Merry Christmas.

And little did he know that the true gift he gave me that Christmas was validation – because he was SMILING!

In The Go-Giver the hero, Joe, learns that the Fourth Law of Stratospheric Success, The Law of Authenticity, says the “the most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.” Author Bob Burg recently posted a fabulously amusing and meaningful video on The Go-Giver Blog about validation and the gift that a smile can bring. (Do take time to watch it – it will make you smile which makes it worth the time.)

Dr. B did for me exactly what the hero of that video does for everyone he meets, and what someone finally does for him. He validated the value of ME. Thank you Dr. B – without you I may never have learned how valuable the gift of “me” can be. And worse, I may never have learned how much it means to the giver to have their gift recognized.

Dr. B and I continued to smile at each other. Lawrence is a big little town and we saw each other off and on until I moved away. Even now, every time I feel too tired or too stressed to even smile I think about the effort it took him to get out of his van, the pride it cost him to make his awkward way from the van to my office and the joy it gave me to know that the gift I gave him meant so much.

This holiday season, and throughout the year, no matter how tired or stressed we are please let us remember how powerful a gift we have within ourselves and how easy it is to share it. And let us not forget to give validation to all the people who have given us that gift. You never know when they will look back at that moment of validation we offered and it will be the one thing that puts a smile back on their face. And that is the perfect, never ending gift that you can give anyone any day of the year.

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