By Cathryn Bond Doyle
The “joy of giving” and the importance of being generous and thoughtful to others is an important and well-promoted concept. It’s hard to top the pleasure that comes from giving someone a much desired or needed gift. In fact, many of us have mastered the art of giving to others and are more recently learning how to give to ourselves. Giving and receiving have been positioned as opposites, with one better than the other, but I see it differently. The purpose of this article is to focus on how our ability to receive from others is as valuable as, and maybe even more thoughtful than, our ability to give to others.
Have you ever thought about why it feels so good to give and to do for others? What about the times when giving doesn’t feel very good? When we give a child a gift we think they’ll love, it feels great when they open it and express their pleasure. However, isn’t it disappointing when they open it and begrudgingly say “oh that!”?
Or, how about when we excitedly give someone a present and they say “Oh you shouldn’t have!” or “I can’t accept this”? In both cases, a gift is given but because the recipient is not happy and/or willing to receive the gift, the joy of giving is somehow diminished. The pleasure of giving is impacted by the recipients’ ability to receive. With this in mind, we can see that when we receive something from another, we have the power and the ability to make it a joyful or a disappointing experience for the giver.
Why does “Gracious Receiving” make the giver feel good?
When we graciously receive something from someone, we’re giving that person the opportunity to truly express themselves. By honoring an “act of giving” with our acceptance, our time and our attention, we’re acknowledging the gift-giver’s value, uniqueness, creativity and existence. We’re expressing, with our actions and words, “I am acknowledging you. I see you. You matter to me.” Whether briefly thanking a stranger or a friend for an act of unnecessary or unexpected kindness, stopping in the middle of whatever we’re doing to watch a child proudly present us with a new picture or looking up to listen intently as our loved one shares a story with us, those moments of eyeball-to-eyeball connection can be priceless beyond words.
Think about this…every single time someone does anything nice for us, we have the chance to return the favor in an immediate and positive way. Being the recipient of a compliment, a kind act or gift no longer needs to feel like a one-way gesture but now becomes a balanced, two-way transaction, enjoyable and energizing for both parties. With this new awareness, we can consciously turn receiving into an act of giving and then both people will experience all the benefits already associated with giving. What a wonderful cycle to perpetuate! With all the good that can come from being a good receiver, why don’t we do it better or more enthusiastically?
Why it can be tough to receive:
1. We’re taught, “It’s better to give than to receive.” This phrase gives us the impression that receiving is somehow selfish and not a “good” thing.
2. If we’re shy, we may feel embarrassed when someone gives us something so in an attempt to get past our discomfort we may change the subject or move on quickly which short-circuits the time we could spend graciously receiving the gift.
3. Receiving from others can make us feel that now we “owe” the one who just gave us something. Whether that’s the intention of the Giver or not, it can interfere with our ability to receive.
4. If someone gives us something and we have nothing for them in return (and believe we should), we may feel guilty. Guilt can really mess up the receiving process.
5. Receiving can carry the connotation of neediness and/or weakness and that may trigger our pride which makes receiving from others feel like we’ve failed in some way.
6. It takes effort, energy and attention to be a good receiver and as we get busy and/or overwhelmed, opportunities to receive can get overlooked or ignored.
7. Receiving graciously is a skill and a social grace that may be unrecognized, unfamiliar and/or never learned and therefore uncomfortable for many of us. The good news is that “practice makes perfect” and feels great!
The Art of Gracious Receiving
Gracious receiving is more than writing or saying a polite or mechanical “Thank-you.” It’s one moment or several moments of our time and attention focused on responding to someone doing something for us or giving something to us. It’s slowing ourselves down long enough to acknowledge someone who is trying to share something with us.
Here are some ways to become a more gracious receiver:
1. Give someone your full attention. Stop whatever you’re doing (even just for a few seconds) and focus your attention on the giver. If you are too busy to stop what you are doing, say so. Example: “I’d really like to give you my full attention but I can’t do that right now. Can we do this in a few minutes, (later, tomorrow, etc) so I can give you the attention you deserve?” The giver will feel honored and will usually agree to a mutually agreeable future time to present their “gift.”
2. Comment on the specifics of the gift or act of giving. When writing a thank-you note or thanking someone verbally, be as specific as you can about their action AND it’s positive impact on you. It takes a bit more thought (or memory) and yet means so much more than a generic, “Thank-you.”
3. If you’re uncomfortable receiving something, turn the attention back to the giver. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings because WE have trouble receiving. If receiving something triggers some discomfort within us, we can still receive graciously if we turn our attention back to the giver by complimenting him or her for their kindness, creativity, investment of time and/or energy, etc. This will take the attention off of us AND make the giver feel even more honored. Example: “Your gift is so unexpected. How every thoughtful of you to think of me. You sure caught me off guard. You’re very kind. Thank-you.”
4. Make a point to look someone in the eyes when saying “Thanks.” In this busy time, as we rush around, taking a moment to really look at someone when we say “Thanks” gives the giver that moment of honoring mentioned earlier. It tells them, with our action, that we acknowledge them. It shows them they matter and that they’re not invisible or ignored. This is particularly effective with children and strangers. It only takes a moment but the impact is lasting and positive.
5. Better later than never. It’s never too late to thank someone or honor a giver for something nice that they’ve done for us. Example: “Hi, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated what you did for me last week (last month, last year., etc.). I was in such a dizzy when you stopped by (called, wrote, etc.) that I didn’t realize I hadn’t thanked you properly. You were very kind and I just want to make sure you know how I’m grateful.”
6. Receiving “blunders” can usually be repaired. If you realize that you have overlooked or missed a chance to appreciate someone’s act of giving, there may be some hurt or angry feelings. Silently hoping their feelings will go away is denial and avoidance rationalization. It is also a fear choice. (See my article “Are your choices based on fear or courage.”)
People have long memories when it comes to being unappreciated. So, if the relationship is important to you. Here’s an effective and light-hearted way to approach this person in order to acknowledge your oversight and apologize, non-defensively. Example: “Don’t you hate it when you do something nice for someone and they don’t say anything about it? I’m SO sorry. I really do appreciate what you did for me/gave to me.” This direct, sincere and non-defensive comment usually clears the air for everyone.
Practice, practice, practice. It will become a part of your nature very quickly. Why? Because it feels so good to have such a positive impact on people.
It’s fun to get good at receiving!
As we become conscious of the power of receiving and work through our own issues about receiving, interacting with others becomes somehow more enjoyable and energizing. It feels good to be so aware of how we can give people the chance to be more of who they are whenever they are with us. When we take advantage of opportunities to receive we can have varying degrees of positive impact. When we miss or ignore chances to receive the “giving” of others, the negative impact can range from neutral to very hurtful.
As we reflect on our behavior, we’ll surely realize that we missed a chance or two to practice gracious receiving. Fortunately, awareness brings the opportunity for change and to make new choices. Rather than beating ourselves up for the past (a well-worn path and non-productive use of time and energy), we can choose to forgive ourselves, apologize where applicable and then turn our attention to becoming excellent receivers from this day forward.
This skill gets better and better with practice. Birthdays and holidays give us lots of opportunities to master our receiving abilities. While its true that “feeling valuable” and “Believing I’m worthy” may not be line items on anyone’s “Gift List,” these are basic human desires. As we realize we have the ability to instill these feelings in others, we can look for opportunities to do so.
Next time you find yourself with a chance to receive and therefore have some positive impact on another-consciously give it a whirl! Although they may not know why they feel so good, you’ll know and that’ll put a smile on your face as well.
Isn’t it kind of ironic (and wonderful) that each time we graciously receive a gift or act of kindness; we’re also able to give one in return?! The saying, “It’s better to give than to receive,” has been drilled into our heads since we were kids but I think a more accurate phrase might be, “It’s joyful to give and very thoughtful to receive.” May you find generous giving AND gracious receiving equally energizing and joy-filled activities.
©2002 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All rights reserved.