If everyone is busy ‘giving thanks’, then who is going to be available to receive all of our ‘gifts’?
I recently emigrated to the United States and in ‘honor’ of my first ever Thanksgiving, I’m going to be exploring the gracious gift of ‘giving thanks’ and the underappreciated art of receiving…
Many of us grew up being told that it’s more noble to give than it is to receive. But if everyone is busy giving, then who is going to be available to receive all of that good stuff? We need a receiver in order to give. And in order to properly ‘give thanks’- as the holiday’s namesake suggests- we must first open ourselves up to the vulnerable art of receiving.
Why you ask? Because receiving opens us up and enables us to connect to others in deep and meaningful ways; it emotionally benefits the way we see ourselves; it brings more compassion into our lives; it gives others the opportunity to give; and if we model the ability to receive, we make it okay for others to receive too. Amidst all of the gift giving that the holiday season brings, can we also make space to humbly receive? To open ourselves up to the gifts that have already been given? This isn’t just about being grateful, it’s about acknowledging the beauty in giving and receiving and embracing this continuous state of flow. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same, intimate coin and we need balance. Join me as I step into the Thanksgiving celebrations as an open-hearted giver and humble hearted receiver…
“For it is in giving that we receive”
– Francis of Assisi.
The world is in a continuous state of circulation and flow. Our breathing, the seasons and giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of the universe. Everything is in constant motion and this is why we need a balance of giving and receiving, or else we block- or stop- the flow.
Can you identify a moment in your life when you blocked someone’s giving? I was recently shopping at our local ‘mall’ when a friendly shop assistant asked if I needed any help. I’m not a lover of shopping on the best of days and I really didn’t want to get roped into trying on- and then buying- half the shop. So I smiled and told her, “I’m just browsing thanks.”But that wasn’t enough to deter her helpfulness. “Are you browsing for anything in particularly ma’am?” Unable to resist her kind-hearted smile I let her in on my shopping secret: “Well I’m actually on the hunt for a jumper…but I’m not into stripes or anything fluffy.” Before I could say anything further she grabbed my hand and took me to another part of the shop, where I found a whole collection of what I was looking for. “Okay let me know which colours you like and I can get multiple sizes of each for you to try.” When I finally let down my guard and accepted the lady’s help, I saw how happy her helping made her. And I ended up leaving the shop with two jumpers and a big smile on myface. A smile that I’m sure was soon ’gifted’ to someone else. So, by opening myself up to receiving the shop assistant’s ‘gift’ I was able to create more flow in my life… from an exchange with a complete stranger! If you- like me- find yourself in a situation where you are annoyed with someone’s unwanted assistance or attention, see if you can look behind the ‘gift’ in order to connect with their true intention…
Illusions and Intentions
“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving”
– Mother Teresa.
There are usually multiple motives for giving and sometimes, giving can be a selfish and not a selfless act, as the very act of giving makes the giver feel good. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I for one love to see how happy my husband gets from finding a surprise bar of chocolate in the fridge. I also receive a gift when I give. A beautiful ‘secondary’ that gives both sides a hearty dose of joy.
Issues only arise when the ‘giving’ and the ‘getting’ become imbalanced. Are you simply giving so that you can feel good about yourself? Or to look better than someone else? A friend back in the UK recently had a birthday and I decided to ‘be kind’ and send her a book I knew she’d like. Note that I decided to ‘do’ kindness: I wasn’t embodying it. A few weeks went by and I hadn’t received the thank you I was hoping for. My friend hadn’t validated my kindness and so my kindness quickly dissolved into bitterness: ‘some people are just so ungrateful.’ Suddenly I realised what was wrong. I was the one looking for love, attention and validation as opposed to giving it. The ‘gift’ I’d sent my friend was in reality, a vicarious gift meant for me.
If you notice an unhealthy need to ‘give’ or find yourself unsatisfied with a receiver’s response then see if you can get behind the initial desire and uncover the intention behind it. What may have seemed- on the surface- to have been an unconditional outpouring of love might have, in fact, been a self-involved contract of love, bound by multiple T&Cs. If the receiver doesn’t oblige to the ‘terms’ of this type of giving, then you may end up feeling like a victim of your own gift.
The Gift of Receiving
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed”
– Maya Angelou.
When we are good receivers we give others the opportunity to give. So why then, do we find receiving so hard? Because receiving puts us in a position where we are vulnerable, indebted and with less power. But receiving also keeps us balanced and nourished: to humbly receive a gift is a gift in itself.
As a Brit in North Carolina, I receive a lot of compliments about my accent. Initially I found the attention quite surprising- even embarrassing- as I’ve never before considered myself to have an accent. However, in my new home town of Charlotte (otherwise known as ‘the Queen City’) the ’Queen’s English’ – as they like to call it- is incredibly well-loved and lots of people have told me to “keep talking, I could listen to your accent all day!” Learning to accept these compliments has not only made me feel proud of my differences, history and heritage but it’s also opened doors to lots of interesting conversations and even some on-going friendships.
Receiving a well-intentioned compliment can help us to connect more deeply with other people and with ourselves. How often do you find yourself batting away kind words from a colleague or praise from your boss? “Oh, I’m not that good” “It wasn’t that hard” “I had loads of help.” Not only are you blocking the givers ability to ‘gift’ you a compliment (and essentially telling them that they are wrong), you are also blocking the compliment from reaching you and informing your sense of self. So next time someone offers you a compliment, see if you can pause to thank the person and allow their words to properly sink in…
The Art of Giving
“No one has ever become poor by giving”
– Anne Frank.
If you’re reading this article and starting to feel bad about the mountains of presents you’ve got stashed away for Christmas- don’t. Giving is a wonderful thing and a fundamental part of the human experience. We are wired to give to others because we are wired to connect. And when our gifts are pure and simple, we can create deep and meaningful connections with our loved ones, but also with the wider world.
Share your gifts with a stranger by opening up to your humanity- perhaps in the form of smile, a newspaper you’ve finished reading or a seat on the train. Simple, everyday gifts that greatly impact the lives of others and create ripples in the world around you. Because your gift won’t only affect the receiver: it will also positively affect anyone witnessing the act. This is all thanks to oxytocin- a neurochemical associated with boosting empathy, bonding and trust. Sometimes referred to as ‘the love hormone’, Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is really helpful if we are feeling anxious or shy in a social situation.
A few weeks ago, I experienced a shot of this happiness hormone, after witnessing a young man holding an umbrella for an elderly lady. A simple gift to someone else, but one that put a smile on my face and completely changed my day! Even the smallest of gestures can create waves in the world around you because the gift you give can also indirectly impact the emotions of others.
Little and Often
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The emotional benefits of giving are highest when we spread giving out into lots of separate experiences. The sum of each positive experience is far greater that the one gift. Michal Ann Strahilevitz, professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California and a researcher on the topic of charitable giving, discovered that those who gave less but on a more regular basis reported higher levels of ongoing happiness. This is why charities often encourage people to sign up for an ongoing monthly donation, as opposed to giving the whole amount at once. Whilst the latter is often more beneficial to the organisation, the former is much more likely to improve the emotional wellbeing of the giver. As Strahilevitz says: “We can say that people’s motivation for good deeds should be pure altruism, but research shows that often there is more than one motive for giving. There is a warm glow we get from helping others. There is also the fact that it improves our self-concept and potentially our self-esteem. Finally, there is improving our image to others, if others learn of our efforts for charity. All of this is the truth about giving– we don’t just give to help the cause, we also give for the good feelings it gives us.” To put it simply: if we want to feel good, we should increase the amount we ‘give’ as opposed the amount we donate. Less- on a regular basis- quite often gives us so much more!
So this Thanksgiving, see if you can stay open and connected to all of the ‘gifts’ in your life. Do you tend to give or receive? Can you get curious about your patterns of giving and receiving? Start this digging and you will soon break through any blocks and allow the art of thanks and giving to flow. And consequently, you’ll bring more of what you want into your life. To quote American author Zig Ziglar: “you will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” So, if you want joy, give joy. If you want appreciation, give appreciation. Keep the cycle flowing- from both sides- and you’ll start to see how quickly you can consciously create the experience of life that you truly want.
Just make sure that when it comes along you are ready to receive!
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