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The Power of Giving and Receiving

Written by Pat Sullivan

giftof selfA successfully poignant twist on gift giving and receiving.  Both are equally important.


American philosopher William James once said, "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." At least as powerful are the urges to give thanks and to have our appreciation received by another.

Among my blessings are two people who love gifts. Whenever I give something to my husband John or our friend Donna Reifsnider, they receive it with fascination. As they comment on what they see in the gift, I see it anew. Often, I discover things about us or myself that I'd not noticed before.

Their excitement is just one of their gifts to me. Other gifts tumble forth whenever their heartfelt "thank you!" is followed by my sincere "you're welcome!"

When "you're welcome!" is truly meant, it implies so many other things, like: "You matter to me. You deserve this. I'm so glad to see you enjoy it."

I first thought about the meaning of "you're welcome!" two years ago after an interview with an artist whose work has touched me for many years. At the end of our brief time together, I struggled to find the right words and could only say, "Thank you."

He said simply, "You're welcome." The words went deeper than usual, and I didn't know why.

An old Oprah Winfrey show about gratitude offered a clue. I'll never forget the look on a little boy's face when his mother said she was touched by something he had written in his journal. "I had no idea that something I did mattered so much to him," she said.

The boy said nothing, but his face beamed. I remembered then how happy and empowered I've felt when something I did touched someone else.

I didn't realize until I started working on this column why I was so touched when the artist said, "You're welcome." Now I'm awestruck as I dare to believe that maybe he meant some of the same things I mean when I say it to Donna or John.

When my grandfather said the blessing before meals, he called it "returning thanks." Though I always wondered what he meant by this, I never asked, and now it's too late.

This much I know: Giving and receiving thanks are as natural to life as breathing. When "thank you" turns into "you're welcome," giver and receiver trade places. As the giving and receiving continue, our souls are fed.

The 12th century mystic Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer you can say is 'thank you,' that is enough." Perhaps it's time to add to that quote: "If the only answer you hear to your prayer is 'you're welcome,' that is enough."