Forty-three days until Christmas. This countdown makes the majority of the world excited. This is not the case for Stephen Watts.

The absence of presents for Christmas and birthdays started when Watts was a child. To this day, he still does not receive any gifts on these days. Shocked, curious as to why this was his reality or frustrated at the thought of a parent doing that to their child, whatever your reaction is at the moment — let it go.

There is much more to these two important days in a person’s life than the boxes tied with bows. There is much more to Christmas and to birthdays than presents.

“It’s Jesus’ birthday, not yours, you didn’t do anything,” Watts says. “On your birthday, you didn’t do anything — your mom did all the work. We give you presents all year round — shelter, food, paying for your education. Sorry we don’t wrap it up in a bow and hand it to you on certain days of the year.”

The lack of physical presents in Watts’ life has been one of the most influential events in his life as it has allowed him to love and long for presence with people over presents from people. Also, it has made him grateful for what he does have and has caused him to appreciate the non-material things in life. This 19-year-old young man is unlike the majority of millennials to date. The lack of presents he has received in his lifetime has allowed him to truly appreciate his constant day-to-day surroundings — family and friends.

What makes you happy?

“Being around people and seeing people I care about happy makes me happy.”

Stephen Watts (Family)
Stephen Watts with his parents as a child

When asked to talk about his family and friends, Stephen couldn’t help but smile at the mere thought of these individuals. It was very clear that he loves spending time with his loved ones whether it is in their physical presence or over the phone during one of his numerous weekly chats with friends from home. Unlike the majority of millennials who are continually staring down at their screens either texting, snapchatting, or tweeting, Stephen would rather call a friend to talk to them than communicate with them through text or timed photographs. Although he prefers physical presence to other forms of communication, he believes that talking to someone verbally rather than through the medium of texts allows for stronger connections to be made despite the physical distance between them. This lifelong journey of not receiving presents during days known as “celebrations” to a majority of people in the world has turned out to be where Watts has been able to learn that material objects do not make a person happy, but people and relationships make you happy. According to University of Illinois psychology professor and happiness expert, Ed Diener, happiness is not found in material success or objects. As quoted in The New York Times article, Diener states that, “Those who value material success more than they value happiness are likely to experience almost as many negative moods as positive moods, whereas those who value happiness over material success are likely to experience considerably more pleasant moods and emotions than unpleasant moods and emotions.” Watts truly believes that meaning is in people, not things nor success.

What’s the nicest thing someone has ever done for you? This question tends to produce pondering and at time surface-level answers. Contrary to this is how Stephen Watts responded. The first thing that he said was that God has blessed him in that he has great friends and a great family who raised him well. His grateful attitude and heart are direct results of growing up with the mindset of family and friends being what is important, not tangible things being vital for life. Tangible things will come and go but people stay and their presence triumphs over presents any day.

As Watts takes each moment for what it is worth, he tries to “live a life that focuses on the here and now.”

As he lives in the here and now he wants to be positively impacting people in these moments. He wants people to remember him as someone who simply left a positive mark on their life. He hopes to do this in a large scale but if it only occurs on the small scale to him that is more than enough. One of his goals is to love everyone he comes in contact with and if they leave an interaction with him feeling better or a bit of love, than he will feel as if he has done his job.

In our world today it is hard to come across individuals who are satisfied with where they are in life and appreciate the constants that are present in their day-to-day lives. Instead of continually seeking for more and wanting to possess as much as you can in your lifetime, maybe step back and learn to appreciate the presences of others and not the presents from others. Take the time to positively impact someone else’s life instead of focusing on your own.

According to Stephen, life’s greatest gift is the gift of presence — not presents.

Feature image credit: Giovanna Albanese