Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Liz Sterling, M.A. Headshot

Is It Really Better to Give Than Receive?

Posted: Updated:

I was recently asked to write an article on "giving" and realized in a nano second that this is a sensitive subject for me. I've been accused of giving too much, bending over backwards, giving more than I receive. Sometimes, my giving is caregiving and co-dependent.

As I considered my relationship with giving, I realized the issue is not with giving too much but with receiving too little, a common problem in our society. It's more difficult simply because of cultural conditioning. Giving is modeled by our parents, taught in church or synagogue. It's an especially familiar role for women who are conditioned to be caregivers. Giving is generally viewed as honorable and praiseworthy. Even the Bible says, "It is better to give than receive." (Acts 20:35) No wonder many of us feel better about ourselves when we give. No wonder we have enormous confusion in this area.

I've always been a giver, a doer and caretaker. It's easy for me to listen, to advise and to guide. One day, my rabbi friend asked me to practice listening as my weekly assignment so I could be a good giver. "What," I cocked my head in confusion, declaring, "I am a good listener. I help people all the time." And he replied, "This week, listen consciously."

Throughout the week, on many occasions, friends and clients would ask for help, advice or just a good listening ear. My readiness to help would cause me to lean into them and offer my opinion or observation. But then, I remembered my assignment and watched as my body language changed. To listen and to help consciously, I had to lean back -- taking in more than I was giving. To truly help and give counsel, I had to take a step back to receive the information and the totality of the person before me. Only then could I truly give what was needed in the moment. I had an "Aha!" experience and realized that to give, I must become present in the moment, take a new stance, create more space, receive, and then, in true service to the other, I can give.

Author and spiritual teacher Shakti Gawain said, "Receiving and giving are opposite energies that are inextricably linked together in the natural flow of life, like inhaling and exhaling. If one aspect of that cycle doesn't function, the entire cycle ceases to function and the life force cannot move freely." It is all about a balance between giving and receiving. As Walt Whitman said, "When I give, I give to myself."

It is great to give, and it can feel like an elixir. We give of ourselves, we give gifts, we give advice and we give our love. It is easy to address giving. The real opportunity is to feel into receiving. From there, we can truly understand Maya Angelou's statement, "I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver." Yay, to conscious giving and receiving -- a great GPS for the Soul!

For more by Liz Sterling, M.A., click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.