There’s nothing quite like the joy of receiving a lovely gift. Yet when someone is kind and generous, it can sometimes stir up uncomfortable emotions. Recently I’ve been taking care of my husband who has brain cancer, and my family has been inundated with gifts from caring friends and neighbors: delicious food, help with home repairs, books, flowers, and even money. When I bumped into my neighbor, Jenny, a few weeks ago and admired her beautiful necklace, she promptly took it off and put it round my neck. Instead of saying “thank you,” I mumbled “no, you can’t possibly…” — I felt embarrassed and was flooded with guilt, wondering how I could ever pay her back.
Giving, on the other hand, seems more straightforward. It makes us feel good and improves our well-being. But giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin — you can’t have one without the other. “They create an inner balance, and complete a symbiotic circle,” psychotherapist Pauline Sanderson, M.A., M.F.T. tells Thrive. And while receiving comes naturally to some people, it’s harder for others. “Whether it’s help at work, help with the kids, or gifts of money or food, accepting the gift graciously can be a learned skill which takes practice.”
Here are four tips that are helping me receive gracefully in my own life, and may help you in yours:
Just say “thank you”
“When someone brings your family a pie, pays for dinner, or jump-starts your car, ‘thank you’ is all you need to say,” Sanderson says. “You can add a non-verbal ‘thank you’ with a hand over your heart, a light touch on their arm, and of course, your warmest smile,” she adds. Also, take a moment to go inward and appreciate how good it feels to know that someone else cares for you.
Enjoy the gift mindfully
“Instead of wondering whether your friend could really afford the gift, or feeling guilty because you haven’t given them anything, focus on the thoughts behind the gift,” Sanderson suggests. “Be grateful for the deeper gift — that the person cares for you,” and for the evidence that you’re not alone. And, if you actually like the gift, as I love my necklace, enjoy it fully, and appreciate the connection with the individual who gave it to you.
Think of receiving and giving as a team sport
“We all share a common humanity; we’re on the same team,” Sanderson says, noting that we all have something to give and something to receive. “If it’s your turn to receive, it adds to the success of the team, moving everyone forward toward the shared goals of good will, health, and happiness.” And remember: Your time to give will come!
Pay it forward
If you feel anxious, unworthy, or compelled to “return the favor” when you receive a gift, remember that “receiving graciously becomes your gift to the giver,” Sanderson says. When someone lends a helping hand, they typically want you to accept it — and doing so allows them to feel the benefits of their altruism as well.
Plus, there are always opportunities to give to someone else after you receive some help. As Sanderson says, “Share your joy by ‘paying it forward’ and responding with a gift for someone else in need.”