365 Journal Questions, writing therapy
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Week 49 Questions for Know Thyself 2019: Receiving Gifts

two woman hugging each other

“I hope you like it!” she said. So do I, I thought to myself.

Last week I wrote about how to give gifts. By the way, I had a little giveaway planned but the instructions were buried at the end of last week’s post.  Let’s try again – be sure to scroll all the way to the end for the instructions so you don’t miss out!

This week, the topic is how to receive gifts. There is a saying that “it is better to give than to receive.” If this is true, then naturally we should all want to give. (Indeed, there is a special feeling that comes from giving.) But where would that leave us – who would there be to receive the gifts, favors, and assistance that we are happy to give?

In light of that observation, we must all become both givers and recipients.  This means we must be not only skilled at giving gifts, but also prepared to receive what others offer, too.  This allows others to practice giving.  Let’s talk about the ethics (norms, rules) that tell us how to receive.

This week’s topic: Receiving Gifts

I once had a boyfriend who refused to accept gifts or help from anyone. Everything I tried to give to him, no matter how large or small, was refused. Part of it was pride.  He was proud of his independence and loathed being reliant on another person.  To receive any gift was an insult to his masculine self-perception.

There was a secondary reason why he refused gifts: he realized that in relationships, giving is never absolutely selfless – he did not want to owe anyone anything, ever.  Even having to say “thank you” as per social custom was an infringement on his free choice. He did not want to be coerced into praising others or showing false gratitude.  It was frustrating for me.

And yet, he might have been right.  Think about it: accepting a gift creates a social debt to the giver; when you receive a gift, you must exhibit a positive attitude towards the giver, saying or doing certain things.  It is customary to acknowledge the gift, to say think you and say that you like it. Even if you don’t like it, you must pretend to like it!  Not only that, but in the future you will be expected to give gifts on similar occasions, e.g. for a birthday or “just because”.  All this – regardless of whether you wanted the gift or not. Try ignoring these social debts and see how long your relationship lasts.

You might be someone who does not like to give gifts for these, or other, reasons.  But think of it this way: by receiving a gift and saying thank you, you are actually giving, too.  You give the other person an opportunity to feel the joy of giving and practice selflessness (even if they fail to get the details right!).

To Receive a Gift is To Acknowledge the Giver

Most gifts are meant to communicate an emotion or thought with the recipient.  In relationships, an act of communication requires a response or acknowledgment. (Silent treatment = poison for relationships). The recipient must say something or do something – otherwise, you’ll feel cheated by the exchange. Over time, this feeling grows into resentment.  Recall the loving parent’s biggest complaint: “My kids are so ungrateful. I just need to hear a ‘thank you’ once in a while!”  At the very least, the child is expected to be a “good kid”, lest he hear the reprimand of “After all I’ve given to you, you go and do THIS?”

An unexpected gift might be communicating a need to be acknowledged or validated.  Notice me, praise me, accept my gift and thereby accept me.  All of us feel vulnerable sometimes and need to be acknowledged. Feeling unappreciated – that one’s gifts and efforts to please a partner go unnoticed – is the complaint that leads couples down the path to divorce.  When you receive gifts, it’s crucial to be aware of what the giver is trying to communicate.

Practice Receiving Gifts

By now it should be obvious that we need to be skilled at receiving gifts for the following reasons:

  • to allow others to practice giving
  • to practice being grateful for other people (i.e., to acknowledge them and their efforts)
  • to keep our relationships healthy

The keys to receiving:

  • focus on the effort and sentiment; avoid critiquing the gift object or timing
  • use your imagination to understand what the gift is communicating (could it be love, or a need for love, security, gratitude, etc?)
  • specifically respond to the effort and the communication so the the giver feels heard and appreciated
  • say Thank you!

Journal Questions:

  1. Do you agree that it is better to give than to receive?
  2. Have you ever received a bad or awkward gift?
  3. What made the gift bad: the timing, the item, the person giving it (or something else)?
  4. Have you ever received an anonymous gift, and was this a good or bad experience?
  5. Think about the recent gifts you’ve given. Did you expect something (anything at all) in return? Check in: would you feel cheated or resentful if they did not respond how you wanted them to respond?
  6. In your opinion can gift-giving within a relationship can ever be altruistic (selfless)? Consider different relationships: parent-child, partners, siblings, etc.
  7. Choose one person in your life. Can you practice both giving and receiving today? (Think of small things, and be specific.)

How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:

By the way, the questions for my Know Thyself 2019 project are designed to help you define your thought patterns and opinions.  Doing all 365 questions will help you learn to ask yourself questions.

Giveaway:  Follow this blog using your email address, or follow via WordPress, then like AND comment! You’ll be entered in a Christmas giveaway for a $20 Amazon gift card – so you can give a great gift to someone this year!  Draw date: December 11th, 2019. Winner will be announced in next week’s post!


  1. Great blog! Gifts can come in different forms – object, action, time, etc. Accepting gifts with gratitude communicates appreciation and acknowledgement that the giver took the time to think about you and appreciate you. Looking forward to your next blog!


  2. proclus9 says

    I thought this was very perceptive – especially in times when virtually everything – especially male’female relationships from dating to marriage – are viewed almost exclusively in terms of power. Michele Foucault (following Nietzsche) introduced this idea in its broadest form, claiming that no matter how kindly, well-intentioned or ‘good’ an action was, it was only a mask for the underlying quest for power over the other. As a result, everyone becomes suspicious of everyone else – – and in the end, this destroys all relationships whether personal, customary/cultural or institutional. Your ex-boyfriend had obviously absorbed this concept from the social milieu where this concept of ‘It’s all about power and nothing else’ is common in public discourse. He felt that taking gifts dis-empowered him and, therefore, could not accept your gifts as expressions of appreciation and affection. He has to approach them with what is (laughably) called ‘the hermeneutics of suspicion’ in order to ‘unmask’ yout sly ‘power-grab.’

    Of coursed receiving gifts places you under an obligation of reciprocity of some kind. Reciprocity is the ‘fuel’ that keeps a relationship or society going. Without reciprocity, everything grinds to a halt. No relationship or society can work if one-side receives all and gives nothing. (A commercial transaction is the most obvious example.; so is photosynthesis i.e. plants take and give off oxygen.) All relationships involve a network of mutual obligations and dependencies and the inability to ‘see’ or intuit that is immaturity, i.e. insufficient growth. Some people never get over such immaturity. They have the ‘John Wayne’ syndrome – the don’t need nobody (so they think) and are unsuitable for genuine relationships.

    It takes strength to receive a gift – and such people lack the inner strength to admit that they – like everyone else – need others to live fulfilled ,lives. They lack the strength to receive appreciation and/or love because doing so threatens their very weak and false sense of absolute independence. They need to listen to and understand Simon and Garfunkle’s “I am a Rock” instead of trying to be ‘John Wayne.’

    Receiving gifts as you point out is an art – and it is an art that humans must learn as they grow from childhood up. Even learning is affected by the John Wayne syndrome because learning from others also seems to threaten them. Knowledge, too, is a gift.

    BTW, your blogs are very useful to human self-knowledge development because they always point me to questions that challenge me to think for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this thought-provoking response! There’s definitely a philosophical movement that interprets all human actions as vying for power, but I think that’s an over-simplification, just like saying that all human action is aimed at happiness. If we fail to define terms such as “power” and “happiness” correctly, then the definition ends up including too much. I suppose that it might be correct to say that gifts are about power – but only if one interprets power in a very general way, perhaps as satisfaction for, and/or aggrandizement of, the ego.

      I think that, as you aptly remark, reciprocity is necessary for relationships. Gift giving is certainly a way of enhancing relationships through demonstration of reciprocity. Gifts are a natural method for solidifying bonds, one which those John Wayne-types miss out on.

      Thanks again for commenting! 😀


  3. ashhorstead says

    I find that now I’m in a loving relationship I enjoy giving gifts more often and will buy gifts regularly. I get a lot of joy from that. That being said, my partner is really good at receiving gifts. I’m not as good and is something to work on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your thoughts! I think it’s great to recognize your strengths and the things you want to work on. It’s important to remember to let your partner experience giving and remember that a gift is an opportunity to acknowledge your partner. Love and hugs – Emily


  4. ajaffer7 says

    As cliché as it sounds, I find that presence is the best present I can receive since human connection is something important to me. Physical gifts are nice as well, but I enjoy giving them more than receiving them. While it’s easiest to pick up a gift card for someone, I try to get something unique for a=the person I’m getting a gift for as I find that to be more meaningful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good points – being present can be a gift, offering an ear and a chance for human connection. We can do this for anyone, too, and it costs nothing but a little time. Also, making a gift unique or personalized goes a long way to make the recipient feel special. Love and hugs – Emily

      Liked by 1 person

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