Give Someone Else the Pleasure of Pleasing You
Remember that gracious receiving is a gift to the person you are receiving from. This is evident from one of the common phrases that we use to respond to a thank you: “My pleasure.”
The subtext of that phrase is, “It was my pleasure to hold the door for you because I felt purposeful and important for a moment knowing that it helped you.” Or it could mean “I felt so satisfied seeing the big smile on your face when you opened the present I got for you.”
A scene from the movie Father of the Bride illustrates this point beautifully.
Steve Martin’s character is excited to give his daughter and son-in-law-to-be the gift he picked out for them—until he finds out that his daughter’s future in-laws have purchased a new car for the young couple.
Feeling inadequate, he tries to hide the present behind his back, but his daughter prods him until he gives her the gift—a cappuccino maker that he has carefully picked out for her. She’s genuinely delighted with his present and says, “I couldn’t love anything more.” As the daughter skips away, Steve Martin looks after her and says, “I feel the same way.”
Clearly her pleasure at receiving his gift gave him pleasure, too.
Your ability to receive is also a gift to those who love you and want to feel helpful, generous and connected to you.
Let Others Lighten Your Load
Receiving help can also make you feel inadequate. It brings into question whether you are capable of doing everything yourself. But since no one can do everything themselves, that’s not a reasonable question.
The more important question is how much are you willing to let others lighten your load?
Claire didn’t understand the value of receiving help until she broke her arm at age 42.
“Strangers would offer to put my groceries in the car for me, and I would refuse because I still had one good arm and could do it myself,” she told me. “Of course, it took me longer, but I didn’t want to feel helpless.
Then one day I was trying to put my luggage in the overhead compartment by myself and a man offered to do it for me. I told him I could do it, and I probably could have, but this woman said, ‘you only have one good arm. Let him help you for goodness’ sakes!’
That’s when I realized I must have seemed ridiculous with one arm in a cast saying, ‘I can do it myself.’ That’s what 2-year-olds say. What was I trying to prove?”
Claire told herself she didn’t want to feel helpless, have others see her as helpless––or worse, needy––so she tried to stay in control by doing everything herself. That made her appear ungracious and slightly ridiculous.
As with rejecting gifts, rejecting help will also deny the helper the pleasure of knowing they’ve lightened your load.
Receiving Compliments Well Makes You More Attractive
My friend’s mother, Kim, made a gourmet lunch for her daughter’s wedding shower.
Everything was perfect—the buffet table looked like a photo spread from Epicurean Magazine, and the meal was delicious.
When I complimented her for a job well-done, she looked happy and gave me an enthusiastic “thank you!” She didn’t apologize for anything about the meal, or explain anything to me about its preparation.
She just basked in my appreciation for that moment.
Maybe she was thinking, “I hope she didn’t notice the poached salmon is cold,” but I don’t think so. I felt a small connection with Kim in that moment because I knew she had received my compliment. I could tell because she looked me in the eye when she smiled, which made me feel good because I knew I had made her feel good.
Later someone mentioned that Kim had also made the flower arrangements, and several people commented that they were gorgeous.
Kim looked up from what she was doing in time to hear and receive the compliments on her arrangements, gave us that easy smile and said “thank you” again. By this time, I was thinking how beautiful my friend’s mom is.
Finally, when the shower was over and all of the guests were getting ready to leave, I watched Kim as each of the women offered her praise for throwing a wonderful party.
Not surprisingly, Kim took in each and every compliment. Again, she lit up with a beautiful, relaxed smile. She looked happy and confident hearing the praise.
Granted, Kim had done plenty that day that was worthy of praise, but the point is that she was able to hear that from us.
Not everybody can. The more we praised her, the more radiant Kim looked, and the more contagious her smile was. She was enjoying the pleasure of hearing the compliments as much as we were enjoying the fruits of her labor.
As a result of her response, I came away thinking of Kim as a warm, confident person, all because she had a great capacity for receiving compliments! I wanted to be as gracious as Kim because it was so attractive.
Most of us have been raised to think that it’s unattractive to bask in a compliment, but just the opposite is true.
Imagine if instead of saying thanks when I complimented her on the meal, she had said, “It was nothing. I just copied recipes from a magazine.”
That wouldn’t have been attractive at all. In fact, such a response would have seemed like false modesty, which is never attractive. I would probably have felt a slight irritation. “Didn’t Kim hear me?” I would wonder. I might even have argued with her by saying, “It wasn’t nothing! This meal required lots of preparation and care.”
If Kim had done anything less than receive graciously, it would have reflected poorly on her. As it was, her graceful response to our compliments made her attractive and likable.
In order to be so gracious, Kim had to be willing to withstand the attention we were giving her, and to accept the compliments wholeheartedly and without apology. She was not in control of what we said or how we said it. Rather, she had to go with the flow in order to hear our praise.
“The best way to live is by not knowing what will happen to you at the end of the day…” — Donald Barthelme
Receiving is Risky
It was the last night of a four-week intimacy workshop I had been teaching, and everyone in our small group had bonded. Women had forged new friendships, shared their deepest secrets and come to look forward to the intimate meetings. We were all a little sad about the workshop coming to an end.
I was surprised that many of the women had brought me thank you gifts—cards, books, candles, bubble bath and more. I was receiving everything graciously and gratefully, and there was plenty to receive from my students, who spoke passionately about how much they had gained from the workshop and from me.
I was open and vulnerable with the women in my class, because that’s the only way you can receive graciously.
I had been taking in amazing compliments and gratitude, as well as thoughtful gifts. I was moved and grateful for the outpouring.
In some ways I was taking a risk by receiving that night. After all, they were bringing me gifts that I may not have deserved since they had paid for the workshop and I was just doing my job. I accepted compliments at the risk of seeming immodest in front of everyone, and at the end, someone offered to help me put the chairs away, and even type everyone’s email address onto a list for the group to stay in touch.
Everywhere I looked, someone was giving me something wonderful.
I was in a professional situation and I certainly didn’t want anyone to think I was lazy or proud or greedy.
However, it felt wonderful to be the recipient of so much affection, and I was glad that I was able to take it all in. I also remember feeling a little uncomfortable, because I was clearly not in control. Rather, what I experienced was like being lifted up on their shoulders, which is a little precarious, but also feels amazing.
You’re making yourself vulnerable when you’re receiving, which can be scary because you’re not in complete control of the situation. That’s what makes receiving harder than it sounds: you’re taking a risk.
However, the alternative is to reject the kindness and sweet surprises that come your way so that you’re never undefended. You’d have to be completely self-sufficient, do every tedious task yourself and pass up the emotional connections you could be having with people who love you.
In my experience, receiving is a risk that’s well worth taking.
“The most difficult thing in the world is to know how to do a thing and to watch someone else doing it wrong, without commenting.” — T.H. White
Gracious Receivers Have Better Intimacy
Wendy exchanged the beautiful, frilly bathrobe her daughters had bought her for a sensible, durable one because it seemed more practical. Months later, she was surprised when her kids told her she was difficult to shop for, and that they dreaded trying to find her a birthday present.
Understandably, her daughters felt they were unable to please their mom. Even worse, this woman had given up the intimacy she could have had with her daughters in favor of a practical bathrobe. While they were looking forward to the thrill of having given her the pleasure of something beautiful to wear, they were met instead with an unmistakable criticism: You bought the wrong thing. That’s a sure way to ruin the emotional closeness those girls might have felt to their mom.
Instead of serving as a reminder that they knew their mom well and shared a special closeness, the bathrobe incident left them feeling defeated because they could not please her. Had they been successful in buying something that pleased their mom, they would have felt the warmth of being in her inner circle.
Sometimes, a gift is really an expression of affection disguised as a sweater or a favor.
Evelyn discovered this when she was making arrangements for a trip.
Normally, she would have taken public transportation home from the airport, but this trip was going to put her on the train after dark. When she fretted about this out loud to her husband he said, “Over the weekend, I’ll drop off a car for you so you can drive home from the airport and I’ll take the train home.”
Evelyn was very tempted to say, “You don’t need to take time out of your weekend to do that for me.”
Instead she decided to receive by saying, “You take such good care of me. I really appreciate your doing this.” Her husband surprised her by saying, “It’s the least I can do. You’ve been taking good care of me for 15 years and I don’t tell you or show you often enough.”
I picture this exchange––and the resulting connection––being like an electrical current that Evelyn’s husband sent towards his wife, and that she received in such a way that it made them both light up.
Evelyn was glowing from feeling taken care of, and her husband was shining from being the one who had taken care of her.
The warmth and emotional connection from those tender words lasted for days, but wouldn’t have been there at all if Evelyn had given in to her temptation to be practical and tell him not to bring the car. To receive his affection and consideration, she had to relinquish a little bit of control.
Excerpted from Things Will Get As Good As You Can Stand: (. . . When you learn that it is better to receive than to give) The Superwoman’s Practical Guide to Getting as Much as She Gives by Laura Doyle. Copyright 2004 © Laura Doyle. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
About the author
She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and the founder of Laura Doyle Connect, a multi-national company that provides relationship coaching for single women, girlfriends and wives all over the world. In 2013 she was named a quarter-finalist for Change The World: Search for the Next Global Thought Leader.
She has appeared on CBS Evening News, Dateline NBC, The Today Show and The View. She has been written about in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The London Telegraph and The New Yorker.
Laura lives in Newport Beach, California with her hilarious husband John Doyle, who has been dressing himself since before she was born.
To know more about Laura, visit her website www.lauradoyle.org.