STRANGE GIFTS - The Gift of Wanting, The Gift of Accepting

We have all heard since we were small, "It's better to give than to receive," and most have come to believe this, and to appreciate the joy of giving unto others.

But there's another side to that coin.

What about when you WANT to give someone something, and they just don't want or need anything? This is particularly frustrating when it's a gift-giving occasion, like Christmas, a birthday, an anniversary, or some other special time.

Many people, particularly older people, have already gotten all the "things" they want, and they just can't think of anything else they want or need.

You say, "Dad, what do you want for your birthday?" or "Grandma, what do you want for Christmas?" and they answer, "Oh, I don't know. I really don't need anything." Or even worse, "Oh, nothing really. You don't need to worry about me."

They think they're being nice.

Chances are you have done the same thing on occasion.

But when it's done to you, when someone tells you they don't want anything, or they don't really need anything, IT'S FRUSTRATING!


You really can't control what other people do. You can influence,  but you can't control. But you CAN control what YOU do.

If you'd like to avoid being this kind of frustration to other people, what you can do right now is to begin making a list of things you might like to have.

I'd suggest making the list in a text editor to start. This is very easy to open and to edit, and you can put a shortcut to it on your desktop so it's easy to get to.

On this list, add items in different cost categories: Under $10, $10-$25, $25-$50, $50-$100, $100-$500. $500-$1,000, and over $1,000. Hey, may as well dream big, right?

As you list each item, you should also list next to it a suggested place to get the item, and the price you've checked out that you can get it for.

It should be an ongoing project for you, something you update whenever you see or think of something you might like to have. Include on this list EVERYTHING you think of, things ranging from small to large, such as Nylon Bowl Scraper from Williams-Sonoma; DVD of Live Fast Die Hard; 4GB USB Key; Rainbow socks with individual toes; a pair of khaki dockers in size 34-32 - Penney's is a good place, about $28; A family portrat of Bob, Julie, and their kids; a Canon 75-300mm f1.7 zoom lens from Wolf Camera for $1499, etc.

Then, when anyone asks "What do you want for your birthday?" You can just print them out a copy of that list. As you give it to them, say something like, "Just something small from this list would be wonderful, there's probably something on there that would suit."

Does that sound greedy to you? It did to me when I first thought about it. But on second thought, it occurred to me that I was giving them a gift!

Think about this and see if you agree - when someone asks you the question what can they get you for _____? two things are obvious: (1) they WANT to get you a gift; and (2) they have no clue what to give you.

If you tell them "Nothing" or "I don't know" or "I don't need anything" or "Please don't worry about it," what you have just done is to intensely frustrate them. You have frustrated their urge to give you something, and you have frustrated their request for you to help them out.

If you manage to convince them not to give you anything, then what you have truly done is to STEAL from them the opportunity to feel good by giving.

In other words, by trying to not SEEM selfish or gift-wanting, your are denying that person the joy of giving, and are actually being MORE selfish.

On the other hand, if you give them your gift list, you can "not seem selfish" by pointing out you really do want that $4.97 nylon spatula, in Red, from Target, because it would go wonderfully with your new kitchen theme. But at the same time, if they really REALLY want to get you something nicer, they have the whole list to pick from.

The bottom line here is that by trying to not seem selfish and trying to deflect gift-to-you-giving, you are actually coming off as being more selfish in that you are putting your own image ahead of someone else's joy in giving.

So to avoid that, put together a Gifts-I-Would-Like list, and when someone asks you "What would you like for your anniversary?" give them a copy. If you have a preference, let them know that as well, but leave it up to them.

To underscore how true this is, put the shoe on the other foot. You ask your sister what she'd like for her birthday. You really love your sister, and you know she's given so much to her family and her community for so long, you just want to do something for her, but don't know what. Imagine how you'd feel if she said, "Oh, I don't want anything, thanks anyway!" And imagine how you'd feel if instead she handed you a list with about 25 items on it, and said "Oh, you are SO NICE! Thank you! This item here is a Chocolate Cookbook for about $3.98 used on Amazon, I've been dying to try out some of those recipes! If you can't find that, then there's this list of other stuff, or just don't worry about it, I appreciate you just thinking of me."

She has just given you a gift: the gift of YOUR joy in giving her something she wants, the gift of HOURS of saved aggravation trying to figure out what she might like; the gift of more time saved in looking for where to buy the thing, and the gift of possible alternatives if that doesn't work out.

You feel much better for giving her a gift she wants, and you have saved a lot of time and effort.


The natural follow-on to this is gracious gift acceptance.

Many people don't quite know what to do when someone gives them a gift. So they blush and stammer and thank the giver. That's all fine, but what's not fine is to go overboard saying "You shouldn't have!" or even worse, "This is too much. I can't accept this." or even giving it back saying you don't want it. (I have had that happen several times).

Sheesh! Everyone receives some gifts they don't want at times! If you don't want it, at least be nice to the giver! Hang on to it for a year, then quietly dispose of it. (Don't give it back to the person who gave it to you, unless they can really take a joke!)

Mostly, there are two things to do in gift acceptance: (1) Thank the giver, profusely but not too much. Too much will be seen as sarcasm and will be insulting. The level of thanks should be proportional to the gift. You wouldn't thank someone the same for giving you a peppermint as you would if they bought you a steak dinner. (2) If appropriate, express appreciation later, in front of others. For example, in March you tell everyone at a family reunion, "This is a great tripod my wife got me for my birthday! I really love it!"

Do some thinking on the two types of STRANGE GIFTS I mention here. Think about giving someone the gift of letting them know what they can give you; and think about giving someone the gift of accepting their gift to you. I believe you'll agree with me.