THE BLOG
10/23/2015 01:31 pm ET Updated Oct 23, 2016

Why It Is Better to Receive Than Give

Happy Halloween! Here's a "trick" question for you: is it better to receive a free treat or give one? Actually, no trick... receiving free candy is empirically better than giving it. Right? If you are experiencing any discomfort with this statement, then I feel you. We are supposed to want to give, it's greedy to want something for nothing, free "treats" are for children; adults are supposed to earn everything that we get. You didn't earn it, you don't "deserve" it! Are you more comfortable with that statement? I'll bet the majority of you are, and for very good reason... it's what all people born into Generation X and before were raised to believe. We disdain the "everybody gets a trophy" culture, the frankly horrifying ability to retake a test when a score is subpar and the younger generation's infamous "sense of entitlement". Well, I've got some news for you... although those beliefs are as deeply ingrained in me as anyone, I am starting to have a sneaking suspicion we are wrong. And we are paying for this misconception dearly.

Have you ever done something really nice, really generous for someone and received no thanks for it? Of course you have, we all have, millions of times. Does it stop us from giving of ourselves in the future? Occasionally it may give us pause to repeat our generosity to the ungrateful receiver specifically, but in general the answer is no, I am sure. We are hardwired to give of ourselves; there is literally nothing else to do. We give our time, our love, our compassion, our wisdom and our humor freely, and on a regular basis. We lend a hand, an ear, a buck whenever we can. We donate canned goods, "gently used" items, blood, a kidney, for God's sake. People give and give and give and give because that is our mission on earth -- to express ourselves to others, generously and often. But have you ever asked yourself what kind of receiver you are? Because frequently this is where the flow dries up...this is where we stop the expression of love dead-in-its-tracks.

How good are you at accepting a favor? How comfortable are you with a compliment? How open are you to support, both emotional and physical? How uncomfortable did you feel when I pointed out that getting free candy is WAY BETTER than giving it? We have become, many of us, in our striving for self-reliance, independence and in general bad-assness, ungracious receivers. Hear that! Even if you think you are refusing someone's generosity for "righteous" reasons, you are still being entirely ungracious by robbing them of the satisfaction of giving. Think about how you feel when someone does not acknowledge a kindness you have extended...now imagine that person pre-emptively refusing your kindness. That is what you are doing when you say no to someone who is extending themselves to you. My Grandfather had a stock joke he made whenever anyone did something nice for him; he'd always say "You shouldn'a done it." He was kidding, but too many of us are not. Too many of us are uncomfortable receiving what others have to give. Too many of us are uncomfortable with the "treat" part of life.

The brilliant and entirely bad-ass late British author Iris Murdoch once posited, "One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats." Holla, Iris! My best friend's grandmother believed this as well, and at the end each of day treated herself to one piece of chocolate...there is something to be said for knowing the reward is coming that keeps the pep in our step. Knowing we can have a piece of chocolate every day may even prevent us from having a hundred pieces of chocolate in one sitting when we are stressed out. But I think most people would consider this protocol overindulgent nowadays. When I was a kid we had dessert every night, as did most kids I knew; it was part of the dinner meal. And childhood obesity was not anywhere near the problem then that it is now. This stinginess we feel towards ourselves is ironically pushing us towards MORE unhealthy behaviors, because we are not allowing the flow of "continuous small treats". We deny our need to be treated and blood pressure, addictive behaviors and reliance on medication to get through the day all go through the roof. So say I.

Of course Jesus said, "It is better to give than to receive," but who knows where that guy was coming from? Ha. Kidding. But when you think about it, how can you give if there is no one willing to receive? The two way street of giving and receiving must remain wide open for life to flow, for us to experience that elusive "happy life." Think of how good you feel when you get authentic recognition for your efforts, whether it be your work, your altruism or just your sense of humor. It lights you up inside, makes you want to give more and more and more of yourself. So how about returning the favor? Give other people the opportunity to express their generosity to you, and you have opened an important gate to giving -- giving thanks. Thanking someone from the bottom of your heart for the wonderful way they have just expressed themselves to you. If you are not open to receive, you are not open to expressing gratitude and gratitude is, IMHO, the real key to a happy life. So open the door to receiving. And have a very happy thanks giving. Get it? Word play kills me.