Cheerful Givers

This time of year is all about gifts and giving. But is it about receiving?

I said to a friend yesterday that I’d rather give something away, that I’d rather feel the pleasure of giving than to feel cheated in selling it at a yard sale.

At one time, I had bought a number of children’s books for my daughter, which she had outgrown. At the time, I was involved with an on-going  family yard sale, held  once a month in a building owned by a family member. It was where we put all our unwanted stuff to sell.

I had paid around $15 for each book I had bought from a book of the month type club. I just couldn’t bear to sell them for a dollar or so a piece, and it was clear that no one would pay more than that for them. So I packed them up and gave them to the library—some $300 worth or more of books—there were at least 20 of them.

I felt good about giving them to the library where any number of children might enjoy them, and if the library wanted to sell them or give them away later, that was fine too. They were out of my way, and I felt I had given something valuable to a good cause.

My realization was in my statement of how much pleasure I received in the giving compared to the sense of loss and being cheated that I felt in selling.

Then I got a lesson in how much better it feels to give than to receive.

At our office, we play the swap presents game where each person brings a gift and then by the numbers, the people will either choose a new gift or take a gift from someone else. There was not a lot of snatching of gifts in this particular instance, so it wasn’t that much fun.

I have been in such games where the gift I brought was one of the ones snatched several times, which was gratifying for my ego. But this time, nobody chose my gift, until the very last, probably due to the wrapping (a Christmas take-out box that had contained a gift given to me previously.)  I ended up with some soap and cologne, which I don’t use, because nobody had anything else that I wanted.

Later, a co-worker gave me some body wash as a gift, again, something I would not use because I don’t like the scent of it. Receiving something that is thoughtful and that I like is very pleasant, but getting a gift because a person feels the necessity to give is something very different. Two co-workers gave me candy and cookies—something I love to overindulge in and that don’t have to be used or stored— but the others I won’t use and will probably repackage and pass along to someone else.  The giving is more pleasurable than the receiving.

My family decided to go on a vacation this year instead of doing a big Christmas gift-fest. What a relief. I’ve been able to avoid shopping and trying to think of something to give people who already have more stuff than they have places to put it. On the one hand, I don’t have the capacity to give them things they want that they can’t give themselves (a new car, a laptop, hardwood flooring) and I don’t really know what little things I could give that would be received with pleasure. It’s a struggle every year, and from what I overhear, everyone has this same problem.

So I’m taking another look at the giving and receiving game. Short of handing someone a shopping list, which I have done before,  the season is all about the pleasure of giving something–anything. There’s a statement about how well we know each other lost in that story somewhere.

So I will accept and thank, working to appreciate the effort and the thought. There’s the chance that I will be surprised and grateful for a gift, but there’s also the chance that I’ll be packing up what I get for my next chance of giving.

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