It’s Teacher Appreciation week! A week filled with thank you notes, free coffee and breakfast, maybe some gift cards from the Parent Teacher Association. For many teachers it’s a nice week to celebrate your dedication and hard work you put into teaching and supporting your students. For others, this week can be a little more difficult. If you’re anything like me you prefer to be the one giving gifts and volunteering rather than receiving the applauds and honors. Don’t get me wrong it’s wonderful being recognized for the good work one does, but deep down I wonder if I’m worthy of all this fuss. My difficulty in receiving compliments and gifts made me wonder: 1) why does receiving makes some of us so uncomfortable; 2) and how we can feel more comfortable in receiving? So, in this post I’m going to explore these questions further.
Why does receiving make us uncomfortable?
Many of us have been programed to deeply believe that giving is noble and far superior to receiving. There’s perhaps some truth to that. People who donate and volunteer tend to be happier. Think about it, don’t you feel great when you give someone a gift or volunteer your time for an important cause. I regularly volunteer at a local after school program, and it brightens my day supporting children and teenagers do their homework, talking to them about college, guiding them on how to make better choices, and even debating with them about popular culture. After spending a couple of hours with the students I’m filled at the cellular level with positive energy and joy. Actually, Konrath and her colleagues (2012) found that people who regularly volunteer live longer, but only if their intention for volunteering are altruistic. However, receiving is also virtuous. So, why don’t some people feel great when they receive a gift or a gesture of kindness from another person?
It’s selfish to receive
Some of us may have been conditioned by our religious institutions, families, or mentors that it is best to give than receive. This belief may stem from the idea that we are not better than other people, especially those who may have less than us. Again, no one is denying the importance of giving, but receiving with grace and humility can also be a heroic gesture. It takes a lot of guts to accept gifts, kind words, and support from others. This is especially true when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, because we’re admitting that we are vulnerable and need help from others. Anyone who’s been very ill, had surgery, or on crutches knows that when you are at your weakest point that gracefully receiving the support and love of others can get you through the toughest times. Sometimes gifts are given to us to celebrate our accomplishments and our hard work. This is also not a selfish act. Other people have put thought and effort into celebrating your achievements and good work. Accept their kindness by graciously receiving.
Pressure to reciprocate
Sometimes we self-impose the need to reciprocate the gift. This reminds me of an episode from the Big Bang Theory when Sheldon goes to the mall to buy his neighbor and friend, Penny, a Christmas gift, because he anticipates she will buy him a gift. So, he buys different gifts at varying price points and based on the value of the gift he receives from her will determine the Christmas gift she will get. Well, Penny surprises Sheldon with a priceless gift of a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy, Sheldon’s childhood hero. This of courses causes Sheldon great anxiety and he returns with dozens of baskets of gifts for her. This of course is an extreme, and yet funny case on how convoluted our self-imposed pressure to return the favor or gift can be. Rarely is there ever strings attached; it’s just someone simply being kind to you. And if there are strings attached then that person who gave you a gift was not genuine in their generosity.
You don’t believe you deserve it
So many times we believe we are not worthy of other people’s kindness and gifts. Why is that? Where is that coming from? Why does it matter if you think you deserve a gift? Clearly, the person giving you a gift thinks you are worth it. By questioning your worthiness you are not fully in the moment of receiving a gift or kindness from another person. What a lost opportunity to have a moment of true connection with another person. In addition, this attitude is also taking away from the other person’s experience in giving you a gift. The person may notice that you are uncomfortable or that you are not embodied in the moment, which diminishes the power of giving. So, be in the moment and cherish this person’s generosity.
How we can feel more comfortable in receiving?
This week as you receive gifts, thank you notes, and kind words and gestures from your students, their parents, and others in the community remember that you do deserve it! Embrace the moment with humility and grace and be fully present this week as you receive such generosity. Remember that the gift of giving is as much of a gift to you, as it is also a gift to the giver.
I know for some of us receiving is difficult, but with mindful practices perhaps you can ease into the power of receiving this week. Be sure to be aware of how your body feels when someone gives you a gift or gives you a compliment. Where do you feel that kind gesture in your body? How does it feel? Do you feel anything? What is your initial reaction? Do you want to joke and be self-deprecating signaling that you are not worthy of such a gift? Do you hesitate to take the gift? Just notice your reaction this week. There is no need to judge yourself, but with love and kindness towards yourself and with curiosity dig a little deeper about how and why you react the way you do when you get a gift. You may be surprised by what you uncover in this mindful practice.
Share your experiences this week on The Meditating Teacher Facebook page. What did you discover about yourself as you mindfully received gifts and thank you notes?
Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2012). Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology, 31(1), 87-96.