Are you a person who never hesitates to help others but never asks for any help? Do you believe you are in a better position to give so you should, while refusing to accept anything in return? Do you think it is weak to ask others for help? Conversely, are you someone who is always taking and rarely contributing? Do you believe you are in such an upside-down position that you have nothing of value to give? Do you believe no one would value what you have to offer anyway, so why give something meager? Or maybe you keep a balance sheet, deciding to give or take after checking whose turn it is or assessing whether you’ve been giving too much or too little.

During this holiday season when gift-giving abounds, let’s look at each act individually.

Giving something tangible means to give another person something you hope they will appreciate. Receiving means someone gave you something they hope you will appreciate.

You can also bestow gifts in the mental realm as evidenced by listening to someone with a problem, providing needed information, or sharing advice when it is requested.

You can also bestow gifts in the emotional realm, such as giving friendship, time and attention, or love.

This is a bit like communication, as there is a speaker and a listener—a two-part equation. You are giving and someone is receiving. Is it a gift if the other person doesn’t want it? That depends on which side of the equation you are standing.

I’d like to level up our understanding of genuine giving. When truly giving from the heart, you give a gift because you want to. You, the giver, provide something to another person because you get pleasure from it, regardless of what the other person does with it. Of course, you hope they gain pleasure too—it’s why you did it—but you don’t allow their response to dampen the joy you experienced in giving it.

Giving out of obligation doesn’t qualify as a gift; that would be a debt repayment. You do not have an open heart, but you are giving because you feel like you are expected to. Things are not freely given and there is no joy present. I don’t consider that a gift.

Pay attention to the responses of others, though, in this way. If you are giving and the other person seems embarrassed or obliged to repay you, consider whether you should continue to give. Remember the two parts of the equation? You give because it gives you joy and because you hope it will bring the other person joy. You are aware of your pure intentions, but the receiver may not be. They may be thinking, “I can never repay you,” “I don’t deserve this,” or “now I owe you.”

When you are always the one giving, here are the potential problems with that:

  1. You may come to resent the people you give to without getting anything in return.
  2. Refusing to receive anything blocks others from the joy of giving to you.
  3. You continue to give, give, give, exhausting and martyring yourself in the process.
  4. You create an overwhelming sense of obligation in those you give to.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you jump into this holiday season, or any time you are planning to give:

  1. What is my motivation for giving?
  2. Am I expecting anything in return?
  3. Am I giving because I want to or because I feel obligated?
  4. What do I fear will happen if I don’t?
  5. Can I withstand those consequences?
  6. Will I negatively impact the receiver by giving?
  7. If so, do I care about that?

Should you choose to give based on your answers to the above, then giving is your choice, made with full understanding of the consequences. This means that you lose your right to later come back and lament your decision. You need to be sure before you act and take radical responsibility for the outcome. If you later feel you were taken advantage of, that tells me you were expecting something in return. If you give out of obligation and have decided you are unwilling to pay the price for not doing it, you have consciously decided giving is better than the consequences, so own that decision. And if you give knowing the receiver may feel obligated back to you or embarrassed at their inability to reciprocate, then you are giving for how it will make you feel, not for the benefit of the other person.

If you’re one of those people with a balance-sheet mentality, you do not understand the concept of gift giving. When you give, you give two gifts—one to the receiver and one back to yourself. Yes, you gain the wonderful feeling of knowing you did something nice and unselfish for someone. When you wait for the reciprocation before giving in the future, you are robbing yourself of that special feeling. Genuine giving is when you give from the heart, with pure intention, never expecting anything in return.

And if you are a taker, you are blocking your own ability to be a giver. You do not have to reciprocate in kind with someone who has more resources than you, but you can pay it forward to someone who will appreciate what you have to offer. Never believe you are unworthy and unable to give anything of value. Time, compassion and understanding are all tremendous gifts that many would be happy to receive this holiday season and any time throughout the year.

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