The older I get, the more sensitive I am to certain types of cultural messages which are all around us. At this time of the year, they’re particularly loud and sometimes, obnoxious. One of them is: “Giving is better than receiving.” It sounds wholesome, until you realise that retailers use this message to coax us into buying more presents for our loved ones.
The truth is, I still adore the seasonal spirit of love and generosity; it’s just that I’ve become a little wary of obvious marketing. Besides, I’m questioning the logic of that old saying. Is giving really better?
Think about it: If it’s true, then we should all be giving a lot. Assuming that all the world shares the same ideal, the question is: Who on earth are we giving to? Because in order for us to give, someone has to receive – it’s only logical, isn’t it?
My conclusion is that people who claim giving is better than receiving, probably believe that about half the people are much better than the other half. The good ones give, and the inferior others are stuck with the receiving. They don’t know any better.
So either people don’t have much faith in humanity (after all, they write off half of it!), or they simply aren’t very good at maths. Because once you think it through, you’ll come to the conclusion that receiving is just as important as giving.
Allow me to elaborate.
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Giving is beautiful
Before I create the incorrect impression that I’m somehow against giving, I’ll emphasise that I love it. Giving is vastly beneficial for both the person who’s being gifted and the giver, at least when it’s done for the right reasons.
The right reasons are fairly obvious: You should be giving because you want to and because the other person means something to you. If you only pick presents out of a sense of obligation, giving can be accomponied by resentment. This doesn’t just go against the spirit of giving, it’s nothing short of poisonous to any kind of relationship.
I confess that I’ve always enjoyed giving gifts. I love picking out something the other person might like. The entire process of wrapping the gift and then watching it being unwrapped, makes me warm and fuzzy.
Is giving better than receiving?
My late mum was a classic 1950s housewife who believed that she had to be there for everyone else, but not herself. Whenever any of us gave her a gift, she’d exclaim: “Oh but you shouldn’t have!” or “This must have been so expensive!” She had a huge heart and meant well, but it always used to dampen my joy a little. It was like a tiny rejection of the gift.
Not surprisingly, a culture which drums into us the value of giving alone, makes us all a little dysfunctional when it comes to receiving. This is particularly obvious in those of us who struggle with money. Of course there are many reasons for financial scarcity, but one of them almost always involves our souls being uncomfortable with receiving. Just like my mum used to do, we cringe away from receiving for any number of reasons. We might believe we’re not really worth the money/gift, or that receiving makes us greedy or bad.
The root of these beliefs is the idea that the universe is somehow limited. In a limited universe, if someone receives something, another person must go without. In reality, this is not how it works, and it’s especially not how giving and receiving work. It’s all a big misunderstanding.
When gift-giving is as it should be, it’s a mutual benefit: Warm fuzziness all around, gratitude on the side of the gifted, joy on the side of the giver. As it is, we often mar this potentially rich experience, and cut off the flow of mutual warmth and love shared.
In order to change this for the better, I suggest you begin training your receiving muscle. This will automatically set you up for more abundance in other areas of your life too, so it’s an overall win – and what better time to start than the holiday season? But even if you’re not into Christmas presents, you can still practise receiving every day:
1. Start with compliments. Instead of explaining them away, simply smile and say: “Thank you!”
2. The next step is money. Be it your salary or just 1 Cent you find in the street, it’s an opportunity to receive. Say: “Thank you, universe,” and feel your gratitude.
3. Finally, there are gifts. Open them carefully, show genuine joy, and then thank the giver from your heart. You’ll both feel enriched by the experience.
I wish you happy receiving!