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When is a Gift Really a Gift?

Is something really a gift when we feel forced to give it? Objects, time, energy, interactions, physical affection —these commodities can be generous gifts when given willingly and without expectations. But if we feel compelled to give them, they’re not gifts, they’re transactions. They’re like payment for maintaining a relationship.

I witness children on a daily basis forced to give hugs, kisses, high fives, waves goodbye, and perform when they don’t want to do it. And shamed if they refuse or give them begrudgingly. ALL humans, no matter the age, should get to choose if, when, and what they give. And we as adults are often pressured to give even if it causes us to neglect our own well-being.

To be clear, I love being generous with resources I can afford to part with. And I highly recommend others to do the same. It fills me with joy to share and to give when I can. I especially love to make handmade cards, meals, and art because when I give, it’s my way of giving a physical reminder of my love.

That’s the thing, when we genuinely give because we want to, not because we have to, that’s an act motivated by love. And that love-filled present makes for one sweet gift. When we give because we feel we must, that action is more fueled by the fear of guilt or retribution or fueled by the expectation that by giving, we’ll get something in return. And those motivators tend to sour the gift both for the receiver and the giver.

And on the flip side, gifts should be consensual. It’s good to ask ourselves, is this something this person wants? Or is this just something I want to give to them? If it’s not what they want, we’re not giving them a gift, we’re giving them a burden. Not everyone wants that fake vomit gag gift or that scented candle. Not everyone wants a wet, sloppy kiss on the cheek. Not everyone wants that unsolicited advice.

If we feel the urge to give, it’s helpful to just ask a person if they’re in need or want of the gift and if not, what would they like? Or just observe your loved ones tastes. Do they love a certain restaurant? Do they like reading certain genres? Are they obsessed with a certain band? Could they use a tank of gas or a carton of those expensive ass eggs? Sometimes a nice home-cooked meal and a compassionate listener is exactly what someone wants.

But you never really know until you ask. The same goes for physical affection and advice. Ask before you go for it. Not everyone desires a hug or that piece of wisdom at the exact moment you’d like to give it to them. Asking before giving might seem awkward but it shows we love them enough to value their needs and desires. And that’s the greatest gift of all.

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