Giving and receiving gifts

We are programmed to reciprocate but there is no need if we give unconditionally and expect others to do the same.

How do you feel when a friend surprises you with a gift and you have nothing to give them in return? Are you apologetic? Or do you receive the gift simply with thanks? How we receive gifts can reveal some of our innermost feelings about our self-worth.

We naturally reciprocate. We feel we must repay a meal, a gift, or a favour. Quite often, we feel just a ‘thank you’ is not enough. This tendency to reciprocate has served humans well throughout history. It enabled our ancestors to share when they had plenty and receive when they were suffering scarcity. It levelled out some of the extremes of feast or famine.

The urge to reciprocate remains with us even when we are needy and the giver is not. We feel we should return the favour. But do we really need to?

Receiving gifts graciously is an art, and the key to that art is our attitude.

With a strong feeling of self-worth, we believe we deserve positive experiences and that includes generous friends and gifts. With low self-esteem, we may feel tense until we have repaid the gift in some way.

We can change this attitude of reciprocating to one of acceptance. The giver most likely gave us the gift because they wanted to, not because they expected something in return. They like us. We could accept the gift with a sincere thank-you. Deciding to give to others who are in need can satisfy the strong sense we have to reciprocate. Saying to ourselves “what comes around goes around” avoids the need to reciprocate directly. We accept goodwill when it comes to us and, when we experience good fortune, we share it with others.

Some people feel trepidation when they are about to open a gift because of the risk of disliking the gift and feeling they have to fake pleasure. There is another way.

We can see the gift as a reflection of the friend who gave us the gift. In accepting the gift we accept the friend. The gift tells us something about the giver. Generally, people choose gifts that they would like themselves or that they think the receiver would like. The wackier the gift is, the more it reveals about the giver. It can disclose some of their views about us.

A friend of mine was given marquisette each year from her husband. She didn’t particularly like marquisette but was delighted with the trouble he took, each year, to find her a special piece. Of course, her delight only encouraged him in his choice. However, with her open attitude, she was happy with what he gave her and received it graciously.

Gifts are a reminder of the giver. We might smile if the gift is unusual and not to our taste. But each time we use the gift or wear it, we have an opportunity to think of that person and the thought they put into the gift.