For some reason, we often feel bad about accepting gifts. What drives that feeling? Why do we feel greedy if we accept gifts? Why is there an almost knee jerk reaction to reject help or gifts? And how can we move from this culture of rejection to one of openness and acceptance?

Why don’t people accept things that they are offered whether it is help, kindness or physical gifts? One obvious answer is that they don’t want it. And while there are societal pressures and discomforts associated with unwanted gifts, this article focuses on why we reject gifts or favors even when they are things that we want or need. So why do we do that? Here are some possible explanations for why people reject gifts or favors:

  1. They don’t want to be a burden.
  2. They don’t want the other person to overextend themselves.
  3. They feel bad that they don’t have the means to be the one offering to help.
  4. They are worried that the offer may have strings attached.
  5. They don’t want the obligation to return the favor.

What if we could overcome these hesitations, and simply graciously accept what is offered? How can we make the small, slow changes that could usher in a culture of acceptance, instead of one of rejection?

When a gift or favor is offered, there are two parties who can impact how it is perceived: the giver and the recipient. And there are things both parties can do to make the situation more enjoyable and less stressful. First, let’s look at some ways givers can encourage a culture of acceptance.

  1. Do not give gifts or offer favors you cannot afford. Most people want to be generous. Offering help and gifts to others is nice for the recipient, but it also makes us feel good about ourselves. However, when we offer gifts we can’t afford or favors we don’t have time for, it can make recipients uncomfortable. As givers, we can help alleviate this discomfort by being honest with ourselves about what we can afford, whether that is time or money.
  2. Take some of the pressure off. Part of the pressure of accepting a gift can be related to social anxiety, or a feeling that they must answer right away. Recognizing these possibilities and taking some of the pressure off can be really helpful. For example, sending a gift in the mail, along with a gift receipt, allows the recipient to decide whether they want the gift or not without feeling like they have to reject it to your face. But even better, a service like Eva allows the recipient to express their preferences to a friendly chatbot, without feeling pressure to discuss their preferences directly with you. Offering this option is a way to let your recipient know that you care as much about making them feel comfortable as you do about giving them a gift.
  3. Make it clear that there are no strings attached. Gifts often come with strings attached, which can make people wary of accepting. Particularly if a gift is large, it can feel as though there is an implied obligation. Explaining the impetus behind the gift can help make it clear that you did not give the gift in order to ensure some future obligation. And in some cases, it can be appropriate to simply state that nothing is expected in return.

But the givers are only half of this equation. What can recipients do to become more comfortable accepting what is offered?

  1. Change the focus. For people who are not particularly self-centered, receiving gifts can be uncomfortable. It feels as though other people are focused on you. But all you have to do is shift your thinking. Instead of feeling uncomfortable that someone is focusing their time or attention on you, remember that the other person wants to give you a gift. You are doing a nice thing for them by accepting it. As mentioned above giving gifts makes the giver feel good, too. “It is better to give than to receive.” It may be a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. So when you’re feeling a little uncomfortable about someone else giving you a gift, remember that you are giving them a gift by accepting.
  2. Practice gratitude. Do you know the saying ‘fake it ‘til you make it’? It can feel icky or fake, but sometimes it really does work. Studies show that practicing gratitude actually does make you more grateful (and happier!) So, when you’re feeling a little unsure about accepting a gift, consider making a list of all the reasons you are grateful for the gift.
  3. Say ‘Thank You!’ It seems obvious, but often we choose to deflect or qualify our thanks, instead of just coming straight out and thanking the giver. Sometimes the deflections are a result of our own discomfort, but they can also cause discomfort for the giver. Regardless of our best intentions, we might inadvertently seem ungrateful. So, a clear and sincere ‘Thank You!’ without any ifs, ands, or buts is the best way to show your gratitude.

Bottom Line:

Accepting gifts can be uncomfortable, but there are small things we can do to move from a culture of rejection and discomfort to one of acceptance and gratitude.