Give a “Sensorium Gift”—Because Sometimes We Can Minister to the Spirit Through the Body.

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NOTE: Because I refer to this article in episode 265 (releasing March 18) of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, I wanted to go ahead and post it.

But I wanted to let you know that I wrote this post, and recorded that episode, well before the COVID-19 situation took hold. Elizabeth and I recorded a few episodes in advance, because back in those days, we were planning to go away on spring break with our families. So that’s why you won’t hear any mention of COVID-19. It seems so strange, now—so jarring to hear someone talk as if everything were normal.

Elizabeth and I did a bonus episode of the Happier podcast: “Coping with COVID-19: How to Stay Happier and Calmer in Difficult Times” if you’d like to hear us tackle the subject.

On the other hand, if you’re eager for a respite, and would welcome the opportunity to think about something else for a while, read on or listen to tomorrow’s episode on this subject.

Here’s what I wrote…


I’ve started working on my next book—though right now, I have no structure, no thesis, no title, and no contract. So it’s safe to say I’m still early in the process.

However, I’m in the middle of a huge amount of research into my general fascination, which is: How can I reach my mind through my body? How can I shake myself awake? As part of this, I want to tap more deeply into my senses.

Spoiler alert: I’m interested in more than five senses, and by that, I don’t mean proprioception.

Nevertheless, learning about the five basic senses—the kindergarten senses—is endlessly fascinating. The majesty, the power, the subtlety of our bodies and our senses! It’s extraordinary. (Don’t get me started talking about ketchup.)

One of my aphorisms is “Sometimes we can minister to the spirit through the body, and sometimes we can minister to the body through the spirit.”

As part of this, I’ve hit on the idea of a “Sensorium Gift.” The “sensorium” is our sensory faculties considered as a whole, and obviously it’s a very powerful aspect of our existence.

I’ve had a few friends going through rough times, where they were experiencing an intense amount of anxiety and extra work. I wanted to make a loving gesture—but what? I sent each of them a Sensorium Gift, with items chosen to stimulate or comfort each of the five senses. For instance, here’s what I sent one friend:

  • Sight: A book I thought she’d find very absorbing, plus a set of beautiful colored pencils
  • Sound: This was the trickiest one. I can’t give a CD these days, after all. So I gave a tiny hand-cranked music box that played the song “You Are My Sunshine.”
  • Smell: A box of three small candles, each with a different scent
  • Taste: A tiny box of exquisitely shaped miniature chocolates (I usually never give sugary treats, but decided this was an exception; she’s a moderator)
  • Touch: A soft throw blanket in a creamy blue

As you see, most of the items were a combo—the throw was also a beautiful color, the chocolates looked delightful.

I’ve had other ideas for items to include in a Sensorium Gift. Obviously, these gifts could be quite expensive or very inexpensive, depending on how much I want to spend; whether I was hand-delivering the Sensorium Gift or sending it through the mail; whether I want the gift to have a quiet, elegant vibe or more of a playful, zany vibe.

I can also imagine doing a “Sensorium Kit” to bring into work—yet another option for someone who doesn’t want to be the Evil Donut-Bringer! Or sending a “Sensorium Bag” to a college student or child at camp, another twist on a Blues Bag.

There could be a Sensorium Gift for Valentine’s Day, or for Halloween.

On the Better app, someone made an interesting observation: This kind of gift could be great for someone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks, because it’s a good grounding exercise.

I asked on social media, and some additional ideas included:

There are some things that really cross over into multiple senses—like Pop Rocks candy! They taste and smell sweet, explode on your tongue, make a crackling noise, and are brightly colored.

And there are things that confound the senses—like a magic kit or a paper vase.

However, as an under-buyer who’s also committed to keeping junk out of my house, for my Sensorium Gifts, I didn’t want to buy things just for the sake of giving them—I don’t want to impose a lot of stuff on my friends. Outer Order, Inner Calm after all.

So I really tried to find things that were charming, small, useful, and could be used up—or easily re-gifted.

Also, many people emphasized to consider whether the gift recipient might not want to receive scented items. Some people really prefer not to be around anything perfumed.

What ideas would you add? I really love giving a Sensorium Gift—it feels creative, varied, and purposeful both to give and receive. I’m keeping a list of possibilities.



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