I was inspired by the article in this month's Yoga Journal entitled "The Yoga of Give & Take". The article focused on the importance of receiving, and how difficult it can be for some to receive from others (e.g. compliments, gifts, help). This is the season of giving and receiving of exchanging gifts, exchanging love, of showing people how much they mean to you. With Christmas and Hanukkah coming up, I'd like to spend time discussing the importance of giving and receiving on the blog today.
Let's talk about giving first since I think this is the act we think of most when it comes to the holiday season. Giving feels good. It's an important thing; to give to those we love, whether it's material items, giving time, or sharing pieces of ourselves by talking about our feelings or fears. Studies show the more people give, the happier they are. Altruism activates important parts of our brain that increases sense of well-being releasing feel-good chemicals. For myself, giving gifts is extremely important. Giving can be a means of communication, one that reveals deeper aspects of the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Don't get me wrong. Gift giving can also be a bit meaningless, like when you buy random gifts for a holiday work party, or pull someone's name from a Secret Santa pool who you know nothing about. Gift giving can also feel obligatory during the holiday season. The deeper ideas about giving and receiving I'm focusing on today really relate to exchanges between people with real relationships (e.g. friends, family members, significant others). Gift giving provides the opportunity for you to communicate to the receiver "I see you. I know who you, are and I care about you. You are important to me". The most meaningful gifts convey the message that you know who the other person is, what they like, and you care about them. Gifts don't have to cost a lot of money, or cost anything at all to be meaningful. Coupons for experiences with somebody and homemade gifts can be just as special as luxury items as long as the sentiment and intention is there behind them. Giving a homemade item because you didn't want to spend any money on the person has a very different feeling than a homemade item, created with love for the receiver, created with the intention of making the other person happy. Same finished product, different intention, and thus different feeling for the giver and the receiver. Intentions can be felt by both parties, affect both the happiness of, and relationship between both parties. When I lead art therapy groups with elementary school children, I baked cookies for special occasions (e.g. holidays, graduations) and the children loved the idea that I had spent time baking for them. They would always ask me with smiles on their faces "You made these for us?". It meant so much more that I had made the cookies myself, with them in mind. These things matter. Intention behind gifts and behind giving matters. It matters to the giver as much as it matters to the receiver. Intention is energy, and that energy can be felt by all parties. You, as a giver can go through life looking at gifting as obligatory, or as a means of expressing love. You will be giving gifts regardless, but the latter perspective is more likely to make your heart warm, to strengthen your relationships, and to fill you with gratitude.
Tips for being a good giver:
- Truly think about the receiver when you brainstorm gift ideas. Think about who they are, their interests, values, what they have and don't have, and try to get or make something that they would truly appreciate based on what you know about them. Put effort into it. This will ensure you send the message "I truly see you. I know who you are, what you like and don't like, and this gift was made/bought for you". It will send the message "You are important and you matter to me".
- Set your intention. Set your intention to give with love and to give to make the receiver happy, to show you care about them. Put that energy into the gift. It will be felt. At the very least, you will benefit from this one, because your effort will have those positive intentions behind them. Ideally, the other person will feel your intention, and the relationship will grow from the exchange.
- Give only to give. Don't give in order to receive something in return. Don't keep score. Give simply for the joy of giving, simply for the joy of loving. You will benefit from being generous regardless of whether the receiver reciprocates your generosity. Giving is more a reflection of what's within the giver vs. the receiver so try not to take it personally if your 'giving' isn't reciprocated.
Receiving is just as important as giving. The Yoga Journal article focused mainly in the importance of receiving, but I think both deserve equal emphasis. Just as giving is a reflection of the giver, receiving is a reflection of the receiver. How you receive can reveal good information about you. So many people have difficulty receiving from others, asking for help, talking about their problems and worries with others because of the fear of being a burden, or discomfort of being vulnerable. Receiving is a gift to the giver. What I mean by this is by receiving, you allow the other person to give, and giving is an important act for happiness. Giving increases happiness, and it feels good to help or to give to others. By receiving, it's actually helpful to the giver because you allow them the happiness derived by altruism. By receiving, you also allow the giver to know you on a different level, deepening the relationship. You allow the giver to know the vulnerable part of you. You allow the giver to be in the role of giving or making something with you in mind. Being a good receiver also validates the givers hard work at making or buying you a present. There's effort involved in giving and it feels good when the receiver appreciates that effort. By receiving with appreciation and gratitude, you are also symbolically receiving what the giver has to offer in the relationship or as a person. You are communicating "I appreciate you. I appreciate what you have to offer. What you give is enough. You are enough." In a sense, receiving is also giving, so try to be a gracious receiver. Allow someone to know the part of you that needs help, the vulnerable part, the accepting part, the appreciative part. Give the giver the gift of receiving.
Tips for being a good receiver:
- Set the intention. Remember that how you receive is a form of communication about how you receive what the giver has to offer in the relationship and as a person. Remember that receiving is another opportunity to practice gratitude, an opportunity for the giver to send you love, an opportunity to deepen the relationship. Remember that receiving with grace is also an opportunity to give.
- Say thank you. Even if you hate your gift, remember the intention behind the gift and thank the other person for that intention. Personally, if I plan to return or exchange the gift, I don't mention it unless I have to because it can detract from the giver's experience, and I always make sure to thank the giver or communicate how much the sentiment means to me. Remember, how you receive is often a reflection of what's inside you. If you have a strong emotional reaction to a lousy gift, it's probably related to a bigger meaning (e.g. like not feeling truly known by the giver, not feeling important to the giver, etc).
There's a huge opportunity to learn about ourselves if we can observe how we give or receive, and also opportunity for personal growth and/or evolution. Difficulties with giving or receiving gifts during the holiday season can be indicative of difficulties giving or receiving in relationships in general, so observe what you notice as you go through this gifting process. Try not to judge what you notice, but rather simply use it as information for making positive changes in your life. Go forth and try to be good givers and receivers this season. Both roles are equally important to the relationship between the two parties. Both roles are opportunities to show love, opportunities to strengthen a relationship, opportunities to communicate with the other person. Happy gifting and happy receiving. Most of all Happy Holidays!