The gift of receiving

So, we’ve reached that time of the year. Snow is on the ground, malls are flooded with present-shoppers, and holiday music plays on radio stations 24/7. If you spend much time in the self-help field you notice some funny things about Christmas. One is that people are frequently stressed and people pump out millions of articles about How to Manage your Christmas Blues. There is also an incredible focus on giving and charity and I see countless articles on this as well. Ironically, this becomes an issue for many charities because they get flooded with volunteers in December, but are left short-staffed the other months of the year.

So, this week, we’re going to do a special Christmas article, but we’re going to do something a bit different. Instead of looking at the gift of giving or holiday stress, we’re going to look at the gift of receiving.

Now, if you’re like most people, you might be raising an eyebrow at me. You might be going, “Brandon, How is receiving possibly a gift? That sounds silly.”, but bare with me.

In our current culture, Christmas is emphasized as a time of selflessness, but how does one be truly selfless? The common answer seems to be you give things. You give gifts, you give donations, or you give your time and effort to a charity, and you expect nothing in return. It seems like an awesome idea, everybody gives and makes the world better.

The problem is that there is a bit of a flaw in this kind of thinking. Giving is sort of like one half of a conversation. When you give, it’s a bit like you speaking, you actively share something of yours with somebody else. In giving you would be sharing your time, effort or possessions. In speaking, it’s your thoughts or ideas you share.

Now, imagine for a minute if we decided that everybody should be speaking at the same time and you have no intention of receiving/hearing anything back. The result sounds a bit chaotic.

Nobody’s thoughts or ideas would be heard and a lot of time and energy would probably be wasted. Part of what makes it possible for people to give is to have people willing to receive what you give them.

To clarify this a bit more, being able to receive is like being able to listen. Just like when somebody is excited when they feel heard, people get excited when they know they can give you something to enjoy. It’s even been found that people are happier when they spend money on somebody else instead of themselves. It’s two halves of a relationship, and you can’t have one half without the other.

Now that we’ve discussed that, let’s talk about some ways to make sure you are being a good receiver.


Let go of the idea of deserving

A common belief is that we have to deserve something before we can have it. In essence, it’s not okay to receive a million dollars unless you are a truly amazing person. Gifts and acts of kindness are not something you should have to deserve to have. The very idea of a gift is that it’s a gift. It’s kindness somebody blesses you with, not something you earn.

Drop the loan/debt mentality

A common reason people don’t accept gifts well is because they feel like they will owe the person something back. In many cases this isn’t true. Sometimes people just like to see others smile. Even if this is the case, think back to the idea of a conversation. Imagine how unpleasant a conversation would be if only one person talked and the other just listened. There are cases where it makes sense for somebody to go on a monologue and you just listen, but it’s pretty rare. The best kinds of conversation are ones where you build off of eachother and create a more and more engaging discussion.

Gift giving/receiving is the same way. When you accept a gift and possibly plan to give one in return, you’re building a relationship. Relationships are valuable. We all want close people who can be there for us, and sometimes that just starts with gifts.

Recognize what a gift says

People almost never give gifts without an implicit message included. Sometimes gifts say “I’m proud of you”, other times they just say “I want you to be happy”. It’s important to recognize the intention behind a gift, because sometimes that’s more powerful than the gift itself.

A great example of this was a water bottle my girlfriend, Tia, bought me for my birthday. Tia took probably an entire month to give me my present, because she was really unsatisfied with it. She wanted to do something more impressive or romantic, but just simply could not come up with anything. While the water bottle was not an amazing gift, I plan to use it as much as I can, because the message behind that bottle is “I love you so much that I can’t find a present that could ever compare. This bottle doesn’t even begin to show how much you matter to me.”

When you recognize the message behind a gift, your full gratitude comes out. You really feel the love behind what’s given to you.

Be open to all forms of gifts

It’s important to remember that gifts come in many kinds. A gift could be a present, it could be a person holding a door for you, it could be a compliment, or something different entirely. Being a good receiver means being able to accept gifts in any form that they may come to you even if it’s something really strange.

So, for example, if somebody says they like your hair, don’t brush it off and then say that your hair is actually awful. This doesn’t make you feel good and it doesn’t make the compliment giver very happy either . Take the time and appreciate the fact that somebody wanted to say something nice about you. Appreciate the implications of that action.

Let yourself be vulnerable

This is probably the hardest part of receiving. We as human beings hate vulnerability. We always want to be safe and allowing others to see the softer, more fragile sides of ourselves is terrifying. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we create a space for others to be kind to us. When we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we become fiercely independent. We refuse kindness or help in any kind of way, and while we on some level feel empowered that we can do everything by ourselves, we ultimately feel alone.

It’s really important to be vulnerable, because it’s basically impossible to receive if you aren’t. Vulnerability means trusting somebody else. It means being open and accepting. It’s essentially what being a good receiver is about. If you can’t be vulnerable, it’s very hard to accept kindness because there is always that fear you may get hurt in the process.

So, never be afraid to receive kindness from others. Always try to be as open as your feelings allow, and recognize as a human being, you have just as much right to kindness as anybody else. Have a good holiday.

Images provided by Joanna Poe, jeff_golden,  Alan Cleaver, and Jeff McNeill

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