How to Receive Graciously

by Belinda Munoz on October 22, 2009

receiving gift

“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.


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?


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

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben Leon Guerrero October 22, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Dearest Belinda,

Thank you for another thought-provoking post, I am reading it upon an early rising and am already reflecting on that first quote you included. This isnot something I have put a lot thinking on up til now, but you are right, we all could become better at simply receiving and being grateful sometimes.



2 Patty - Why Not Start Now? October 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Hi Belinda – I think I’ve gotten a little better at receiving over the years. I love what you say about recognizing that if our buttons are pushed by a gift, then it’s probably about us, not the the giver. I do try to be aware of that, and also, I’m at a time in my life when I don’t need much more tangible stuff. So I don’t expect gifts of the material kind. (Oh, wait, my husband did just give me an iPOD and I have to admit I liked that a lot!) But I mostly rejoice in gifts like spending time with friends, laughing, sharing a meal or an experience. Thanks again for a beautiful post.


3 Sol October 22, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Hi Belinda,
I was born of a very poor family but I felt so much love. My parents weren’t psychology majors who theoretically should know how to treat their children, but I was lucky I felt I was very much appreciated. Maybe that is why I have this instinct of wanting to give even when I was in my elementary years. Ofentimes I wish I am rich so I could give more but I know it is not how much you give but like you said it is “genuine giving” that gives you that fulfillment. It is hard for me to resist letters asking for donations, I put it aside most of the time telling myself, I will deal with them when I get extra cash, however they just file up and I forget about it until another follow-up letter comes-then I give it priority. I guess when you have received so much, love, (expressed in so many different ways, you just feel it) affection, thoughtfulness, then giving becomes an outlet of appreciation and thanksgiving.


4 Arvind Devalia October 23, 2009 at 5:04 am

Belinda, another great post, thank you.

I have always been superb at giving but fairly closed at receiving. I am always the one in a crowd looking after everyone else, playing mother hen. Then I learnt how great it was to also be looked after and have things done for me:-)

I have also learnt that the best way of receiving any gift or a compliment is simply to say two words – “Thank you”.

There is nothing more needed. So often people say things like – “Oh, it was nothing” or “You shouldn’t have” etc.

I have learnt to be a much better receiver now and this topic of receiving has been coming up for me over the last few days. Clearly I need to turn up my receiving antennae a notch or two!

So bring it on universe, I am ready to receive:-)


5 Ideas With A Kick October 23, 2009 at 7:14 am

What a great idea: a post on receiving. Not feeling the need to reciprocate is the idea that resonated the most with me.

Some people do have expectations for your to reciprocate when they give you something (consciously or not). They use giving as a way of getting, even if it’s just your love and appreciation of them. But, in my perspective, this is manipulative and it’s not your problem. Just focus on receiving.


6 Nomi October 23, 2009 at 10:48 am

This is a hard lesson to learn. All her life, no matter how much effort & thought we put into gifts for her, my mother’s reaction was “I don’t need this. Why did you give me this? Do you want this?” I’m ashamed of how many decades (!) it took for me to realize that this is NOT the way to handle a gift. When I got engaged & the wedding presents started pouring in (mostly from my husband’s side), I couldn’t deal with it. I cried and wanted to send them all back — these people didn’t know me, and if they did they would realize I didn’t deserve this. I guess in the end I got what I wanted: nobody gives me presents now — including the husband, who ignores Christmas, birthdays, and the rest, and I’m too embarrassed at my own inconsistency to bring it up after all these years.


7 Fr. Michael October 23, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Thought provoking as always, Belinda. I find the hardest thing sometimes is simply to say a heartfelt “thank you” and leave it at that. I often feel the need to keep saying thank you, but most people are grateful for the one simple acknowledgement.


8 Justin- October 24, 2009 at 5:02 am

Ok ok ok you caught me red-handed. I don’t receive very well. Another point that this article made me think of is that receiving is also another form of giving. It is so awesome to give to others and have them really enjoy it. When we receive well we have just given the opportunity for them to give a gift.


9 Karlil October 25, 2009 at 11:26 am

Great post Belinda. I always have the urge to reciprocate. I just can’t seem to help it. It feels weird to receive and not give back in return. I also used to not reject gift from somewhere I’m not so closed or presents that are expensive. Now I’m more open to the idea of receiving. Though I still feel obligated to give in return.


10 LPC October 25, 2009 at 1:42 pm

My mother, who made it be about manners, but meant the same thing, always said, “A simple thank you will suffice.” I like to say it to myself whenever I am tempted to protest.


11 Belinda Munoz October 27, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I’d like to graciously thank you all for your comments. They’re all very helpful to me and I hope we’ll all be at least just a little bit more comfortable receiving going forward.


12 Madeleine November 9, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Belinda, Loving to give but feeling unsure or undeserving when receiving seem to be very common. I really like the idea which Justin stated that receiving a gift with appreciation is another form of giving.

When a gift is unexpected and comes from the heart, it has a huge impact. One time at work, a project went so well and we all really enjoyed working together. One of my co-workers gave me a $5 Starbucks gift -card, but the real gift was the hand-written note of appreciation. I spent the money years ago, but I treasure the note. I could never throw it away.


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