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The Art of Receiving

“Appreciation is an excellent thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us, as well.” ~Voltaire

Halloween is the coming attractions preview of the holidays. Those little witches, ghosts, and goblins will soon morph into angels, wise men, and reindeer, and the candy you gave in October will give way to more expensive gift-giving in December.

While the old proverb tells us it is better to give than receive, countless people bemoan the absence of grateful receivers. Thank you letters seem to be a relic of the past and expressions of gratitude are often drowned out in a sea of complaints about what is wrong with the world.

When you get back nothing or little in response to what you give, it’s natural to feel mystified or even resentful. Interestingly, our culture spends a lot of time on the value of giving, while little attention is paid to receiving. Yet, for every giver there is a receiver. And when something is not received well—whether it is candy, a gift, or a compliment—we notice!

With a little time left before the holiday season arrives, it’s not too late to strengthen your ability to receive and help your children brush up on their receiving skills. Here are three simple steps that will help you receive as well as you give:

1. Notice what people do for you and thank them.

Don’t think for a second that a lack of acknowledgment or a refusal to receive is not noticed by the person who gave! When we don’t receive graciously, we thwart an opportunity for connection and prevent a mutually satisfying transaction from occurring.

The simple expression of gratitude is one of the ways that we give back to the giver. It feels good for our giving to be received and it makes us want to give again! Here are a few ideas to help you practice saying thank you:

  • Thank the grocery clerk for putting the food in the bag.
  • Thank the bank teller for saying, “Have a nice day.”
  • Thank the driver who waves at you to go first at the stop sign.
  • Thank the waiter for bringing you coffee.
  • Thank your cat for using the litter box.
  • Thank your coworker for saying, “Have a great weekend.”
  • Thank your houseplants for their beauty.

2. Accept compliments.

When people pay you a compliment, do you downplay what they are saying about you? Or do you thank them? If someone wants to do something for you, do you say something like, “Oh, you don’t need to do that! I can handle it myself!”

Many people are uncomfortable accepting compliments and then wonder why people aren’t kinder or don’t help them out more. Receiving something as simple as a compliment is a huge statement about your willingness to receive the good things in life.

Even if you are uncomfortable accepting a compliment, kind words, or a gift, note that feeling and receive it. But still say, “Thank you.” Here are a few ways to graciously respond to a compliment:

  • Thanks!
  • It’s so nice of you to notice!
  • I really appreciate that!
  • How sweet of you to say that!
  • It’s great to hear such encouraging words!
  • How lovely of you to acknowledge that!
  • You made my day!

3. Start a gratitude journal.

To be grateful is to be receptive to life’s abundance. Gratitude is a state of mind, a way of seeing life, of noticing and relating to life. There are those who have an overall attitude of gratitude. Conversely, some people are rarely grateful—even when people bend over backward to give to them.

Appreciation and gratitude come from inside a person as a way of looking at life, as a way of being in life. It is completely independent of external circumstances. Start a journal where you can record every day at least five things for which you feel grateful. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • I am grateful for my morning coffee.
  • I am grateful for the beautiful tree in my front yard.
  • I am grateful that my husband received a job promotion.
  • I am grateful for the recommendation my friend gave me for a massage therapist.
  • I am grateful that my sister is content in her life.
  • I am grateful for my home.
  • I am grateful that I have been feeling better

Someone once said, “Life is a marathon.” Through all of life’s peaks and valleys, there are people who help make the journey a little brighter and a lot more fun.

When you express your appreciation, when you respond graciously to compliments, offers of help, gifts (and candy!) you not only strengthen your relationship bonds, you create a life where people want to give to you as much as you give to them. You create a two-way street, giving sometimes and receiving at other times.

This holiday season, receive from the people who give to you. Listen to what they say, notice what they do, and most of all, respond with a sincere ‘thank you!’

Photo by Tony George

About Amanda Owen

Amanda Owen is the author of The Power of Receiving: A Revolutionary Approach to Giving Yourself the Life You Want and Deserve (Tarcher/Penguin, 2011) and the forthcoming Born to Receive: 7 Steps Women Can Take Today to Reclaim Their Half of the Universe (Tarcher/Penguin, 2014).  Connect with Amanda at www.AmandaOwen.com

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  • Apurvaparekh18

    I have no words to express for the excellent wisdom imparted in the article.A new world of relationship and frienship will emerge if one were to put this in practice.If the receivers accept with gratitude what the giver gives then the joy of giving gets doubled. Apurva N Parekh 12th November 2010 Friday Mumbai India

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  • Tracey S.

    This was a well needed reminder for me. I am usually a very gracious person. Over the past week I have been in a funk. This article helped awaken my inner and outer graciousness. For I am so thankful. Thank you!!!