Therapy and “The Gift of the Magi”

Therapy and "The Gift of the Magi" by Jay Feld“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.”

In his classic Christmas short story The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry paints a picture of a young married couple making their passage through the rough seas of early twentieth century urban life.

The outline of this tiny literary gem is simple: each wishes to buy a magnificent Christmas gift for the other – she wants to buy him a platinum chain for his heirloom pocket-watch, and he wants to buy her a set of tortoise shell combs for her long, beautiful hair. But neither of them has any money to spend … unless they each sell their most treasured possession. What will they do?

This poignant story was published in December 1905, so the urgent impulse to buy just the right Christmas gift for our loved ones dates back at least a century. Perhaps people have always thought, how can I be happy unless I know that my loved ones are happy?

That Giving Time of Year

This is the time of year for giving and receiving gifts. We enjoy watching the perfectly selfish way in which little children receive gifts, but we understand that loving with a mature love means finding our joy more in giving than in receiving. We know that enduring happiness comes not from getting the latest gadget for ourselves, but from securing the happiness of our loved ones.

That Healing Time of Year

The word “therapy” is derived from the Greek word for healing. And although therapy begins with a focus on our individual healing, the fruit and the proof of any good therapy is the ability to move beyond ourselves and love others more and better. What type of therapy would it be that resulted in greater indifference or apathy? What type of “healing” are we experiencing if our hearts are not growing larger and warmer toward those around us?

Most people enter therapy because their thoughts, emotions, behaviors or relationships are causing them to suffer; few people come to me with the expressed desire to become better at loving others. But, as every spiritual tradition has emphasized, loving others better is the goal of life! In therapy, we learn that, in order to experience love and well-being, we have to give ourselves away. Our individual happiness is ultimately bound together with the happiness of others. In some sense, no one “gets better” by themselves in therapy – progress in therapy will show itself by growth in loving others well.

That Loving Time of Year

This time of the year is the time par excellence to meditate on, and to act on, the true meaning of gift-giving and love. And like our young married couple at the turn of the last century, we can help ourselves along on our path of healing by enlarging our hearts for the sake of those around us. As O. Henry concludes:

“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

May you enjoy a most blessed Holiday season!

Jay R. Feld HeadshotDr. Jay R. Feld
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
(917) 572-4068

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