One Christmas, as a child, I longed to receive just one gift.
It was the most popular toy of the year amongst girls my age, and for weeks it had been advertised on television between the programmes I enjoyed watching—it was the latest Barbie house. Actually, it was more of a mansion, and it was expensive.
Each year, my parents kept the lights off in our living room until after we returned from church so there was no peeking to see what shape or size our presents were and no opportunity for guessing. This gave plenty of time for my excitement to build—as I awaited the moment when I would discover whether I’d received that which I desperately hoped to get.
When it was finally time, I glimpsed the right sized gift, and I was ecstatic. When I peeled back the paper, I was hit with a flood of emotions. It wasn’t the Barbie house—it was Sindy’s. It was a wonderful house and a fantastic present—but it wasn’t the one I had hoped for.
My parents had tried to manage my expectations in advance, reminding me that we can’t and don’t always get what we want. I also knew my mother’s reservations about Barbie—the dolls that I already owned were Sindy.
So, I sat with my mixed emotions of happiness at receiving a great gift and disappointment that it wasn’t the one I had longed for.
The next day, at my grandparents’ house, I watched as my cousin opened the very house that I had wanted, and it was as awesome in real life as I dreamt it would be. I was hit with another flood of disappointment and sadness, this time mixed with happiness for her having received the gift she desired.
It taught me a lot about owning and processing my emotions. My disappointment was my own doing. It was not my parents’ fault. They had bought me a great gift.
As an adult now, I enjoy giving gifts. I try to be mindful and thoughtful in my choice, and I seek to manage my own children’s expectations in advance. I was pleased this year when taking my youngest to see Father Christmas, that when he told Santa what he would like, the man in red responded with, “I will try to bring that for you, but if I can’t, I will bring you some nice surprises—is that okay?”
I have also tried to teach my children to be mindful in their response to receiving a gift. I’m sure most of us have at one time experienced the feeling of discomfort when accepting something that we don’t like, and children often have no qualms in voicing their feelings immediately.
What I have learnt is that as long as I have tried to be thoughtful in my choice of gift, ultimately, once it is given, how it is received is not something I need to feel sad, hurt, or shame for.
Each person will react differently to receiving a gift and their reaction will depend on many things other than simply what the gift is. Our hopes, perspective, mindset, and mood at the time will all affect our reaction.
I witness this often while working as an editor for Elephant Journal. Authors offer their words as a gift to the world and they will be received differently by each person who reads them. Even ecosystem winning articles can be met with a mixed response.
Negative comments, angry responses, and hurtful remarks can sadden us—if we let them. But we are not responsible for how another person receives our gift. Not everyone will like what we offer, but they can choose how to receive it, and they must process their own emotions. Our role as the giver is to offer our gift to those who choose to accept it.
We mustn’t let the reactions of others deter us from offering our gift. There are always those who will gratefully receive it.