Accepting Gifts

by Haider on December 28, 2008 · 18 comments

in Relationships

When you’re on the receiving end of a gift, you may sometimes feel guilty accepting the gift, and so end up turning it down (or, at least, trying to turn it down while the gift-giver insists that you accept it).

There’s nothing wrong with the gift and you love the person giving you the gift, but you don’t wish to bother the person, or feel that his gesture is more than you deserve.

A lesson I learnt from my brother, which I later realized in my own experiences, is that the gift-giver enjoys giving a gift much more than having his gift returned, especially if out of guilt. My brother would give me gifts that I was too embarrassed to accept, not realizing that he is happy when he sees me happy.

Usually, gifts are given voluntarily and to express a certain sentiment. The gift-giver wants to see the other person happy and hopes that the gift will achieve this purpose. By rejecting the gift you are not saving the gift-giver the hassle, or responding in a way that confirms the sentiment he wishes to express, or experiencing the feeling he wanted you to have. Rather than feeling happy (a positive emotion) for having received the gift, you experience guilt (a negative emotion) that the gift-giver doesn’t want you to experience, especially as a result of something that he did!

Therefore, in the future, if others wish to make you happy, don’t dismiss their attempts. Accept their offers and enjoy the feelings they wanted you to experience.

That’s the gift they receive in return :)

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Khalid Al-Zanki December 28, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Haidar, gift price is part of this equation as well… Sometimes if the gift is so expensive, then the gift-giver will face a higher level of resistance from the other end to accept the gift. because, the gift-taker will feel bad if they cannot give-back a gift in the same price. For example if I give new brand BMW car as a gift of your birthday, you won’t sleep at night if my birthday is few months away…

2 Haider December 28, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Dear Khalid,

Thank you for pointing that out!

You’re right. The guilt is much greater when the gift has a higher price. But the principle remains that if the person wants to make you feel happy, then what will make *them* happy is you enjoying the gift.

The sad thing about gifts these days – and which I see all the time – is the idea that you are obliged to repay the gift-giver with a gift that either matches or exceeds the original gift. The gift is no longer something for you to enjoy, but an obligation for you to fulfill.

However, in many cases, the gift-giver doesn’t expect repayment. He’s not giving a gift in exchange for a gift in the near future. And this is especially true when the gift has no occasion associated with it (so people don’t try to settle scores :P ).

I think we should experiment with this idea: you give me a BMW, and we’ll see how guilty I feel ;)

3 Khalid Al-Zanki December 29, 2008 at 12:57 am


What’s an experiment.. K.D 12,000+ gift one shoot “alaah yehadak”..

4 Haider December 29, 2008 at 5:58 am

But we’ll help mankind understand the concept of gift-giving with real scientific data.

So I think it’s a good price for a worthy cause :P

5 Bashar December 29, 2008 at 11:16 am

While I’m guilty in this habit usually, I tend to hide my birthday and wish list items. Though when someone brings me a gift I usually dont return it.

However I totally agree wtih Khalid (how r you man :) , an expensive gift would make me refuse sometimes. It’s too much to accept it. A good gift for me is one at reasonable price, and smartly meets person’s interest. Expensive one is overwhelming. Gift isn’t supposed to make u rich, but make u happy. So why exaggerate in price?

6 Nosayba December 29, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Nice post. I experience that feeling of satisfaction and happiness when I’m giving a gift to a close friend of mine, no matter how much it cost me. Btw, can I participate in your experiment? You know, the more scientific data you gather, the more accurate your results are. I can play the role of another receiver. I’d love to help out.

7 Haider December 29, 2008 at 1:01 pm

@Bashar: “It’s too much to accept it” not because you have to pay it back, but because you feel guilty taking it in the first place. The point I’m making is that you shouldn’t feel guilty if, by accepting the gift, you make the gift-giver happy :)

@Nosayba: We’ll need to find someone who’s willing to play the “Giver” role first, but you’ll be the first person on the waiting list! Besides, we can establish a new theory if two people get to participate in the experiment ;)

8 Charbel December 31, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Great inspirational articles Mr Haider, and what is great about them is that they teach us intuitively how to make use of them!
and this specific article about gift brings to my mind the most precious gift of Life, that God gave us, and that parents give for their children in return.
that is enough reason i think so that we always be Happy! :)

9 Haider December 31, 2008 at 7:05 pm

Dear Charbel,

Thank you for your contribution, and I’m happy to hear that you’ve enjoyed some of my articles :)

While I haven’t addressed spirituality in this article, I did have the example you gave in mind. In particular, how God is generous, but we feel too guilty to accept what He offers us!

In many ways, we choose to deprive ourselves of blessings because of this unnecessary feeling of guilt, which God doesn’t want us to experience.

10 George July 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Some really interesting comments but I think there is definatley a negative side to giving. In co-dependant relationships an insecure person often gives excessivley in order to gain favour and maintain control over the other person. This is why people who have been spoilt as children find it difficult to adjust when they become adults because they have been robbed of the opportunities to do things for themselves.

I personally think this struggle is what makes us grow as humans and is probably what makes us feel guilty when we are given exphensive gifts because deep down we know that if we had the skills to buy our own BMW we would be better people and truly deserve to have one.

11 Haider July 1, 2010 at 7:24 pm

George, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject and tying it in with codependency.

Gifts are a great way of strengthening social ties and exercising empathy, where we feel the joy of receiving a gift, even though we’re the ones giving it. When you give another person a gift, you don’t want them to feel guilty for receiving it, because you’ll feel guilty giving it (because you’ve made the person receiving it suffer as a result).

Receiving gifts we can’t afford can lead us to question our own competency in life and our dependence on others for getting the things we want. But what about cheap gifts, or expensive ones we can afford? We may still feel guilty accepting them because they cost the giver something, be it time, effort or money. It can feel wrong to accept gifts because we don’t deserve them, or we don’t want to be a burden on others.

But, generally, when someone gives us a gift with no strings attached, it’s best to accept it without feeling guilty, since that makes the act of giving enjoyable for the giver and receiver.

It’s nice to see a simple subject such as gift giving touch on many different issues, and helps us explore a variety of topics.

Thanks, again, for mentioning the connection with codependency! ;)

12 George July 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Thanks for the reply Haider, some great insights. Also thanks for your website, it’s a fantastic resource for encouraging growth and self exploration.

I totally agree with your idea that gifts are a great way to strengthen social ties. I would also suggest that maybe the amount of effort involved in producing the gift determines how much the social tie becomes strengthened. I guess when you decide whether or not to accept a gift you’re actually deciding whether or not you want to strengthen your social ties to the giver.

I guess in some ways having a conversation with someone is a similar process to exchanging gifts. In general it’s better to be grateful and enjoy the other persons efforts but if the other person is abusive or then I would personally prefer to walk away.

13 Haider July 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Thank you for your kind words about the site, George. :)

Gifts have the potential of strengthen ties, depending on why they are given and how they are received. Declining a gift out of politeness and respect to the giver can undermine the effort to strengthen the tie. This post is aimed at pointing out this risk to potential good-doers (i.e. good-hearted gift-refusers :P ).

I personally don’t think the effort put into getting a gift should be the main criterion to use in how we perceive and, therefore, evaluate gifts. I’m a huge fan of “I saw this and thought of you” gifts. While it doesn’t take much effort to find them (because you stumble upon them rather than search for them), but they show others that you’re thinking about them. Obsessing over the amount of effort put into a gift can cause a downward spiral where we expect greater effort and more sacrifices before we accept gifts. And it can quickly backfire when we don’t get the appreciation we receive for our hard work!

I don’t think relationships based on sacrifices are healthy or sustainable. It’s best to think of the intentions that accompany the gift rather than demand sweat and tears along with it. :P

14 Cindy D. March 8, 2011 at 10:18 am

These are very simplistic “feel good” assumptions, but people who give inappropriately expensive gifts to put others in a position of obligation are not selfless people who just want to make us happy. Buying into this dynamic because “it makes the giver happy” is OUTRAGEOUS! Why would I care if someone trying to manipulate & obligate me is happy? Does that somehow make it OK?

15 Haider March 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

Hi Cindy,

You’re absolutely right.

The dynamic changes when the gift-giver wants to “put others in a position of obligation.” In such cases the gift is intended as a means of manipulation, and so accepting it would result in some extremely unhealthy consequences.

What I was hoping to address in this post isn’t the cases when gifts are used for manipulation, but when gifts are given with the genuine intention of contributing to someone else’s happiness.

Would you say that there are such instances or are ALL gifts given for the purpose of manipulation and obligation? And are there people in the world who feel guilty for receiving gifts, even when not given for the sake of manipulation?

I hate simplistic advice, but this post wasn’t intended to cover all manifestations of gift-giving. So thank you for giving this topic greater depth. :)

16 Victim January 17, 2013 at 3:46 am

Hi Haider,

Following are the questions those need to be asked to the Gift receiver:

1. Was it so sinful, if somebody thought so great of you, which you fail to see it in you yourself?
2. Why does price tag matters so much? What has price got to do with the Gift? Why have materialistic views, when / where not required? (A person can like another person for any unknown reasons, maybe the gift was meant for the true child or true personality in you, who knows no price tag)
3. Over the period of life lived, how many of the least expensive gifts you received, do you even remember?
4. If somebody lies to you, while giving an expensive gift, saying that its fake cheapo version? Will that make you happy? (I am certain; you will not fail to count him/her in chepo.)
5. Why is simple gift giving process, where the giver wants to make the receiver happy, made so convoluted and cumbersome?
6. What is so sinful to have such a deep guilty feeling in receiving an expensive gift? Why is your conscience feeling so guilty when there is nothing wrong? Or when you can’t define what is wrong? Is price tag proportional to the wrongdoings these days? (In that case, probably we have potential to invent some model here).
7. Did you ever manipulate giving gift to somebody for your personal gain? Did anybody return you the gift that you took for them? How did you feel about it? Have you ever purchased an expensive gift for anybody? Do you have the potential to purchase an expensive gift for anybody? Do you value anybody that great, that you can part with big amount of your money? Why do you see your own potential that small?

Sigmund Freud described guilt as the result of a struggle between the ego and the superego. It all depends on how much the receiver thinks great of the giver.

Stop suspecting that the gift-giver is your enemy. Stop suspecting every small thing around, like the world got nothing better to do than to conspiring against you. It will lead to lonely and miserable life with no expansions in social domain.

I think gifting these days, is viewed more in a materialistic sense and with suspicion where the receiver is scared that he/she has to part with something valuable unknown in future. Monetary value system, we learn here over a period of time as we grow up and apply to things where we are not suppose to.

17 Victim January 17, 2013 at 4:01 am

Following is the correction in 2nd last paragraph:

Stop suspecting that the gift-giver is your enemy. Stop suspecting every small thing around, like the world has got nothing better to do than to conspire against you. It will lead to lonely and miserable life with no expansions in social domain.

18 Haider January 17, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Hi Victim,

I believe the questions you presented are important for those who feel guilty receiving gifts to ask themselves or in a therapy session. They’re very important in ridding oneself of unnecessary feelings of guilt.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

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