“Each day offers us the gift of being a special occasion if we can simply learn that as well as giving, it is blessed to receive with grace and a grateful heart.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
My yoga teacher said in class recently that giving and receiving are life’s greatest pleasures. I remember smiling at the time as if it were one of those simple universal truths. Much as I was tempted to, I didn’t dwell on her statement since I was in the middle of a particularly challenging asana requiring optimum concentration. However, I made a mental note to examine later.
I can attest to the pleasures of giving. Once I learned and internalized how gratifying giving is, it has become a significant part of my life and one that I’ve been slowly, patiently working on making a conscious effort to expand. It’s not easy to do if you have limited resources and time, but, somehow, making it a habit feels right.
We feel great when we help someone who’s struggling, show up where good turnout counts, make a contribution, or volunteer our time. So long as it’s not an obligation, much of what we feel when we give freely is pure joy that takes us out of ourselves, at least momentarily.
Also, it’s great to be on the magnanimous side. You put your kind heart out there through the gifts you give. Everything originates with you when you initiate the giving process and those benefiting from your generosity are grateful to you, at least momentarily.
Receiving, on the other hand, I’m a little less comfortable with. I suspect this is true for many of us. This is why we spend considerable time picking just the perfect thing for someone. We want the recipient to feel honored and special by what we choose to give them.
Receiving is passive. It’s reactionary. You have very little say on what the gift is, the timing of when you receive the gift (whether or not you’re in a good space to be gracious) and what your reaction is to it (gratitude, surprise, skepticism).
I can recall times when I’ve had a jumble of feelings bubble up upon receipt of a gift. When a friend of modest means gave me a rather expensive designer coat, I said, “Wow! This is so beautiful and excessive! You didn’t have to go all out!” I wasn’t and still not into any designer labels, never spent a ton on anything and didn’t need another coat. It was difficult for me to justify her generosity.
Or worse, I’ve been downright ungracious with a compliment from a friend: “Me? Look good in this outfit? You must be on crack!”. Not the most elegant response to flattery.
Sure, there are many gifts we readily receive. Gifts from our parents, sisters, brothers, children or anyone else who knows us well are probably right on target, more or less. We probably also receive bonuses, salary raises and consulting fee increases willingly as we feel we’ve worked hard to deserve any addition to our cash flow.
But sometimes, we are given things we feel we don’t deserve. Even our President was compelled to say he didn’t feel he deserved his Nobel prize.
And other times, we receive things we flat-out don’t want. Our individual tastes, aesthetics and preferences get in the way of appreciating a simple, innocent, heartfelt gesture of giving.
WHEN A GIFT IS RECEIVED AND MORE
Assuming no malice is attached, what are we really saying when something given to us makes us feel a bit uncomfortable? When receiving a gift is somewhat complicated by feelings other than appreciation? When instead of feeling happy, we’re puzzled, challenged, or even offended?
Do we deem ourselves unworthy?
Do we feel pressured to reciprocate?
Do we suspect an ulterior motive or strings attached?
Do we wonder what false impression we are giving that would mislead the giver into thinking we would want or need something useless or undesirable to us?
Do our issues come to light when we react negatively to a positive thing?
ON SIMPLIFYING RECEIVING (OR WHATEVER HAPPENED TO “IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS”?)
So, what should we do when we’re on the receiving end of gifts, compliments and other nice things that make us feel some of the feelings above?
1. Accept graciously and say “thank you” genuinely. Express gratitude by writing a thank you note and tell the giver something you like about the gift. If you can’t think of anything, acknowledging the nice gesture will do.
2. Resist the urge to reciprocate. It’s simply not necessary. The urge to rush out and buy something to give back has an obligatory undertone that defeats the purpose of gift-giving. Not a good idea if you don’t want to taint something pure. Plus, it’s very possible the giver is simply compelled to give something to you for all the kindness you’ve given him/her.
3. Resist the urge to turn down the gift or deflect the compliment. Yes, sometimes, we may be caught off guard, leave grace at home and be so uncouth to turn down a simple gift or a heartfelt praise. By doing this, you may not realize it but you’re actively risking damage to the relationship.
4. Enjoy the gift or compliment. Gifts aren’t meant to be judged. They are meant to be received with gratitude. It’s not about deserving or not deserving. Giving and receiving is similar to pushing and pulling. If you give, you shall receive.
5. Acknowledge (to yourself) if you have a negative reaction and examine why this is so. With a little reflection, you’ll know if you have an issue you might need to resolve, or if you plainly don’t care for the object.
6. Donate if you must. This is a great option if you absolutely have no desire or use for the object. Someone else will want it if you don’t.
7. Make it a policy not to receive gifts and let everyone know. If you’re minimalist leaning, you probably already have a policy about not accepting gifts. When my husband and I got married, we explicitly put “No Gifts” on the invitations. Do this only if you don’t mind missing out on cool or useful stuff you might actually like (or have the means to buy anything you could possibly want).
8. Count your blessings. Anytime is a good time to list all the good things you have that you may not readily think of as gifts, that you feel you deserve, that you may even take for granted. Think, for a moment, what your life would be like if you didn’t have these things. (If you will, please take an extra step and think of those who, indeed, don’t have these things.)
Material gifts, in general, no matter how desired, appropriate or timely, will lose that initial sparkle eventually. When all the newness and luster is gone, what are we left with? We hope we’re left with the relationship that incited the gift to begin with, intact. Or perhaps we’re left with the functionality or the beauty of the object. At the very least, we hope we’re left with the memory of the giver, whose intention was most likely pure, regardless of how complicated it became when the gift-giving loop closed with us.
What about you? Are you equally comfortable with giving and receiving? Have you ever received a gift that sparked multiple reactions from you? Care to share what you did or what you learned from it?
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie
Image by Jeroen Kransen