Why It Is NOT Better to Give than Receive

When you start questioning Bible verses, you know you’re in trouble.

And yet, I am questioning the wisdom of a well-known bit of scripture:

It is better to give than to receive.

Over the last few weeks, and with a little trepidation about errant lightning bolts, I’ve decided I disagree.

It seems to me that in believing that, we create an unequal relationship between ourselves and our fellow man, he whom we supposedly wish to help. And yet the very act of helping, of giving, automatically makes us better — or more blessed, depending on your specific translation — than the recipient.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us struggle with being able to open up ourselves to receive.

My family and I received a lot while we were traveling around the country for 10 months. We received free stays in guest rooms and free parking in driveways. We were given meals, access to laundry facilities, and sometimes even the gift of outright laundering our dirty clothes for us (I still can’t get over the kindness of someone voluntarily washing our dirty socks!) While we didn’t budget for these kindnesses, there’s no doubt that they changed the nature of our trip. We traveled further and longer than we could have without these blessings, and more than that we were transformed by the experience of having so much generosity heaped upon us.

At first, I tried to keep score of all that we were given, a careful accounting that would ensure I was able to precisely payback what had been received. But as this mental debt accumulated, I realized that it prevented me from really embracing what was being offered: kindness, love, encouragement, and even optimism. As long as I was obsessed with balancing the scales, I couldn’t truly honor the gift itself.

I stopped keeping track of my sense of obligation and started counting my blessings.

I learned to say thank you without adjusting an internal ledger. I enjoyed kindness freely given and was humbled by it, but not made less than.

I said, “thank you,” and meant just that.

I found that it made me more generous. Now I can give of myself not to settle the score, but because it is just as good to give as it is to receive. I can give and walk away, with no expectation of forward or repayment, but simply with the peace that comes from letting pieces of yourself go.

In recent weeks, I’ve decided to resist the urge to explain exactly how I’m giving back, or to justify what I am and am not taking from the world; it’s easy to make assumptions about what a person or family must be taking from others when they aren’t living the way “most” people do. I have been tempted to make clear exactly what I provide on my own, exactly what I do not expect from others. But in doing that, I would have propagated the belief that receiving is bad,that  it is less than giving and a sign of weakness.

Without receiving, there is no giving.

The two are linked, equal parts of a potentially beautiful whole. So why not enjoy one as much as we do the other? Why  not bless our other half by eliminating guilt or groveling from the transaction?

Give, receive. Receive and give.

Do both with a spirit of love.

Do you struggle with receiving? Do you find it easier to give help than to get it?

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  1. naomi says:

    I have thoughts on this, but am too brain-tired to respond … I agree with you though.

    It all depends for me, on what type of help it is. I more easily receive a gift of kindness, randomly given … than I do an offer to help when that means that I may be considered weak or unable.
    naomi’s most recent post: FRUIT CHAAT

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’m trying to teach my kids to be careful in offering “help” when it is not asked for. Gifts, I think, are different. Unrequested help almost rarely turns out well, I think.

  2. Nanna says:

    I have said this for years and years (not that I have always lived by it myself) that you have to have an open hand that is able to receive – in order to be able to give. A closed hand can’t GIVE any better than it can receive.

    To receive is to acknowledge that you’re part of the great family of mankind, the sibling-hood, I guess. Gosh, giving AND receiving. Isn’t that the reason God put more than one of us here at one time?

  3. Nyt says:

    Um..well… Your hypothesis assumes that the giver is also somehow “keeping score” and not giving freely, thereby making the exchange somehow “unequal”. By that conclusion aren’t we doing the “givers” an injustice by even accepting?

    After all, if we accept, aren’t we creating an imbalance? I’m pretty sure that the universe did not intend for us to do the score keeping. And the “blessing” thing…somehow receiving is a blessing, but giving or being able to give is not a blessing?

    I suspect this is about your own questioning of your current “position”. One thing about personal growth that I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not all about the “happy”. Yes, there is “happy” in every day and yes, you can choose whether to be “happy” or not, but that means acknowledging and accepting that not every plan works, not every person will love you, and not every critic is entirely wrong.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I have been struggling with this comment all morning.

      First, the simple part: no, I didn’t say that giving is not a blessing. Not at all. In fact, my point was that BOTH giving and receiving were blessings.

      But what has really got me all twisted up is an assumption that, based on your comment here and over on Work It, Mom last week, you seem to have made about my current “position” (I’m not exactly sure what the quotation marks you used are inferring.)

      It seems that you’ve assumed that because I said I was learning to live without financial “security” and learning to value receiving, that you’ve deduced that I am making no money and giving nothing.

      Neither of those things are true.

      I am still supporting my family of four. The gifts we’ve received from friends along the way enhanced our lives, certainly, but we would have eaten and had shelter regardless. Similarly, I am now staying with my in-laws for a couple of months – which has been part of the plan for quite some time – because we will soon be moving to another home far away. We didn’t crash here because we ran out of money or couldn’t support our kids on our own anymore. In fact, we decided weeks ago to end our trip early (which I wrote about at the time) in order to ensure that we still had money left over to live on and to fund the transition. We aren’t paying rent here while we visit (I can’t even imagine that scenario in our family), but we are still paying other bills.

      It’s interesting to me that twice now your responses to my writing have taken big leaps away from any words I actually wrote. At the risk of being too presumptuous, I’d suggest that might be something worth thinking about on your own.

      As for me, I’m thinking a lot about why these misconceptions have bothered me so much. Ultimately, your perception is irrelevant to my life (and I don’t mean that disrespectfully, just in the way that we aren’t connected like that) and so it doesn’t make sense for me to be so annoyed by them.

      I don’t have any clear answer for that yet, but I’m certain it will be something I’ll continue to think on for a while. :-)

      • Nyt says:

        No need to struggle, all is well.

        The title of your post “It is NOT better to give than receive” questioning the age-old adage. You then spend a couple of sentences musing about the whole plus and minus and whether or not inequality is created by the very act of giving. My point, at that juncture, is that there is an assumption that a score is being kept by both sides. Moving on in your article, you conclude that giving and accepting freely is key.

        I have made no assumptions about the way you live your life nor have I drawn any conclusions about your financial health or family dynamics. The question on Work-It was what would you give up financial security for? My answer was nothing. In that post you equated your lifestyle with the freedom to drop everything and attend a funeral. My reply then was that those with financial security have that same freedom.

        I have never so much as insinuated that you were down and out, nor have I ever questioned why or how you ended up where you are or for how long. Since you feel the need to defend yourself from that position, I would say that you’ve taken big leaps from the words that I have written.
        My use of the word “position” in quotations is meant to equate (in a broad sense) with words like lifestyle, choices, path, direction etc. If you have read this as social or financial position, then you have my apologies. Perhaps I should make better use of my Thesaurus early in the morning…

        Momma always used to say that the things that annoy us about others/things/situations are reflections of what we find disturbing in ourselves. That may or may not be the case. My presentation of an opposing view or a dissenting opinion is just that, a presentation. I truly believe that there is no discussion without dissent and there is no discussion to be had in defense. If you are happy in your “position” (there’s that word again hehe) then there is no need to defend it, to anyone, least of all someone such as myself who is completely irrelevant to your life :)

        I’ll be interested in hearing the conclusions to your ruminations should you choose to share them. Be Well!

      • Momma says:

        Where is the “other home far away”? I’m so excited for you!! Can hardly wait to hear where you’re going next.
        And, to keep on topic…I agree with hockeymandad; it certainly is EASIER to give than to receive. Learning to receive shows growth and maturity, I believe. And that is most certainly what you’re doing in your life.

        • Miss Britt says:

          That’s the goal anyway.

          I hear our new home will be about an 8 hour drive from your new home. ;-)

          • Momma says:

            Yippee…. 7 hours and 51 minutes drive to be exact. When DeannaBanana and family plan a visit next year, why don’t you all come the same time? It is a beautiful area, with a sand dune beach nearly as nice as the gulf beaches, surf and all. The area is very interesting historically, (War of 1812 and all, you know, the one where the Canadian side won, and burned the White House???? *snort* heheheh.) Anyway, a topic for when y’all come. We have 3 bedrooms, so lots of room. So excited!

          • Miss Britt says:

            I think we should definitely plan that.

  4. i disagree. it *is* better to give than receive. that’s why giving feels so good! BUT, that is not to say that receiving is bad or somehow to be considered debt. receiving is wonderful and reminds us to give to others so that they may also feel love and gratitude.

    i’m not as good of a writer as you are and it is still kinda early after not the best night’s sleep, but i guess i am trying to say that there is love in both giving in receiving, but giving (time, money, wisdom, etc.) can change the world.

    • Miss Britt says:

      You say “it *is* better to give than receive. that’s why giving feels so good!” but then also say “receiving is wonderful”. That seems like a logical disconnect to me. :-)

      I do believe giving can change the world.

      But so, I think, can gratitude.

      • nope, not a disconnect. i just can’t properly communicate the way receiving what i perceive is an act of love makes me want to go out and give even more love to the world twice as hard…the giving fills my heart with more love for the next person because i love receiving. vicious and wonderful circle that i can’t adequately communicate, but the giving always (literally) makes my heart race. i can actually feel the joy in my body…giving throws quite an adrenaline rush into my body. receiving warms my heart.

        see, can’t explain. but i can feel it and that is good enough for me. sorry i jacked up your comments!

        • Miss Britt says:

          I get what you’re saying. And honestly, I think you’ve described how giving feels for most people (I LOVE giving, to be clear.)

          Where you might be unique is that you also do a pretty good job of receiving without attaching a lot of issues to it. You’re one of the most grateful people I know.

  5. Hockeymandad says:

    I think it should read it’s easier to give than receive. At least that’s the case for me. I am not comfortable with receiving at all, except one thing, but this is a family blog. In general, I don’t like the awkwardness of receiving anything because that’s what it is for me, awkward. I feel the pressure you described and I don’t like it. There are exceptions of course, but in general I don’t like it. I’m thinking it comes from growing up in a house where we always needed help from someone. Be it family members, the state, or a neighbor, we were not well off and always needed help just to get food on the table and lights in the living room. So I grew up wanting to be on the other side. I love to give. I put great thought into gifts and I freely offer whatever I can to people because it makes me feel good. I expect nothing in return ever, nor do I want it. A smile and a thank you is all I ever hope for in return and I am never disappointed.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I agree. It is definitely easier for most people to give, myself included. Like you, I grew up knowing we were dependent on others and that my mom hated it. As a result, giving makes me feel safe.

      Learning to feel just as safe receiving has been a worthwhile journey for me.

  6. Liz says:

    I have always struggled with receiving. I have my own little ledger in my head, and it always leaves me feeling unworthy because I can’t possibly give back. This is so unhealthy, and you are so right. It’s time to stop. I stress so much about owing this one a few bucks and that one dinner, when really I should have just enjoyed the time spent together. That’s the true gift.

    Thanks for not only helping me see this, but also for stepping out and saying, “me too.”
    Liz’s most recent post: Life Stuff: Overloaded and Loving It

    • Miss Britt says:

      “I stress so much about owing this one a few bucks and that one dinner, when really I should have just enjoyed the time spent together. That’s the true gift.”

      Exactly! If we know that give frequently, there’s no need to ruin the time spent together by hanging on to the guilt of receiving.

  7. Megan says:

    Yin and yang. Light and darkness. Giving and receiving. We have to recieve in order to give, I think. Receiving fills up the tank so we have more to give.

    I need to recieve more. It’s a work in progress.
    Megan’s most recent post: The Confidence Question

  8. Lisa says:

    Being a gracious receiver is just as important as being a generous giver. Part of what feels good about giving is the response of the receiver, unless you’re doing an anonymous thing. Like Megan said, they’re yin and yang. You can’t have one without the other. Great post!
    Lisa’s most recent post: Who Finally Published a Life List?

    • Miss Britt says:

      I realized I haven’t always been a gracious receiver. I’ve said things like “oh, you didn’t have to do that!” and “now I feel bad that you did that.”

      Who wants to give something to someone and then hear that they feel bad?!??!!

  9. martymankins says:

    I never really struggle with receiving. In fact, it’s very much appreciated when it happens. A nice gesture, a kind act… it’s all nice from this givers perspective.
    martymankins’s most recent post: Year 4 – Giveaway Day 1

    • Miss Britt says:

      It seems like from a few comments you’ve made that you don’t get given to very often. That kind of bums me out to think. I should have brought you something when I was in Salt Lake City!!

      • martymankins says:

        From my perspective, yes, I feel like I give a lot more than I receive. While I don’t want to label myself and someone who doesn’t receive great things – which I do – in the efforts of constantly giving because I am constantly asked to do things for others, the few times I do receive something in return, it is very much appreciated. I’ve simply learned the last 20 years of my life to really appreciate the few times someone does something for me without me asking (or feeling like I’m burdening them for asking)

        For those times where I enjoy giving, it is times like having your family over for dinner, having a house party where I love to play bartender and mingle with others, offering refills on the drinks, spending time at my friend’s house, fixing their computer because while the fixing it happening, we talk about just about everything but computers…. so there are times when giving is nice. But without sounding like a Donny Downer, I am asked to give a lot more than I volunteer to give.

        As for what you could have brought, you brought a wonderful and memorable night of chatting, dinner and stories of your RV travels across the US. :-)
        martymankins’s most recent post: Year 4 – Giveaway Day 1

  10. fiwa says:

    That is a very thought provoking post. I am most definitely more eager to give than receive. I love to give, but when it comes time to let someone give to me, it makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I try to get out of it. I think we need to remind ourselves how good it feels to give – and remember that we need to allow other people to feel that way too. I was just thinking though, I’m much more willing to let a stranger help me out, than a friend. I think you are right, I think it’s the feeling of “owing” that I don’t like. With a stranger, I know I’ll probably never see them again. With a friend, it feels like it hangs over my head. Thank you for the reminder that I need to be more open and accepting, gracious even, when people give to me.

    • Miss Britt says:

      When a stranger does something nice for me, it’s easy to get all caught up in the glow of how cool it was for them to do something for a stranger. You’re right; I’m much less likely to worry about the mystical ledger in that case!

  11. totally great experience for you and your family. learning to accept gifts and compliments is hard to do. i’d rather give than receive because i have such a hard time with thank yous

  12. Alex@LateEnough says:

    Love this. Asking and accepting help takes humility, which is just as important as generosity.

  13. daniel says:

    Being able to receive, and do so graciously is something we need to be able to do. I still say, however, it is better to give. There’s a mindset about that turn of phrase that it invokes that is at the heart of the matter for me. It’s a subtle difference, but one that, to me, feels more of an invitation to be an active participant in other’s well-being, and not as concerned with your own. I’m not saying a bit of receiving is bad, but it is an attitude. If giving and receiving are equal, then do we only give as much as we are given? When do we give? When do we wait to give? I think it is a separate lesson about being grateful receivers, and it’s a big one.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Maybe it is a separate thing. For me, as I have been contemplating learning to receive openly, that particular phrase kept coming up as a sticking point.

  14. I have met some people who believe that when they receive something, they receive it graciously, but with the intention of paying it forward. I suppose this is still some kind of ledger-keeping, but they are humbled by the gifts they received, so much so that they feel like sharing what they received. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, Britt. (Have a great weekend ahead, by the way!)
    Andrea | Elimination Communication’s most recent post: How to Know When Your Baby Needs to Pee

    • Miss Britt says:

      Honestly, I think what you’ve described is pretty much the same as what I’m aiming for.

      The point, for me, is that we recognize that giving and receiving are both part of life and that we accept our turn on all sides of the circle. The only way to really appreciate either is to be confident that you’re part of all of it.

      For me, I came at this with a tendency towards giving rather than receiving, so that’s where I needed to tip the scales, I guess.

  15. [...] Se7en, Harry Potter and other movies sliced with cats being awesome. (hilarious, not safe for work)Why It Is NOT Better to Give than Receive: From In Pursuit of Happiness, why asking for help is as important as being willing to give it. [...]

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