21 Day Relationship Challenge – Day 16

Respond to the Spirit of a Gift

Today’s resolution suggests that you “Respond to the spirit of a gift.” Sometimes it’s hard, for reasons of our own, to respond to a gift with the enthusiasm that the spirit of the gift deserves.

If you had a chance to try this resolution, did it come naturally, or did it feel forced?

Did it make a difference to your happiness?

We can all learn from each other, so please post your experiences with the resolution in the comments section below.

  • peninith1

    This was a big nightmare in my family growing up. My father loved to get my mother sort of romantic, pretty gifts, which were sometimes dressy or ‘frivolous’ (not ‘sexy’ just ‘pretty”). She did not think that they suited her, or could not see herself in that light. Often her reaction was to say ‘oh’ in an icy tone, as if he were the cat dropping a dead mouse at her feet. It was most painful to look on and see his face fall. When I reached my teens, he enlisted me to help him shop–this, too, was agonizing for me, because I wanted to make a choice that would please him and not displease her. A lot of pressure! I still remember my great success in helping him to pick out a quilted robe that had a bold and dramatic print on it and yet a quite covered-up shape that my mother would likely not object to. She loved it. I am in my sixties and can still remember my anxiety over that gift. In later years, my Mother has learned to be much more appreciative of any gift at all. I had the art of being pleased at anything NAILED by the time I was 15. I could not bear the thought of being unresponsive to a gift! I guess the moral might be–spouses, remember your children are watching your gift giving and your gift receiving. They, too, will be hurting if one of you is very cold and rejecting of another’s gift.

  • Janet


    When I was ten years old my Aunt Sara bought me a scale for my birthday. I was a fat kid and was mortified by this “gift”. Years later I figured out she must have asked my mother what to buy for me and didn’t come up with it herself. Mom soon put me on a diet.

    Gift giving and receiving is full of potential land mines. This is a really good resolution and a great reminder for the receiver of a gift to show generosity.


    • gretchenrubin

      A friend of mine kept getting “gifts” like this from her mother, really upset her.

  • maine

    Great post. We don’t have alot of disposable “gifts” income. So, I give Hubby a list of gifts I would LOVE. (spa time, fine writing paper etc) He won’t get them b/c he likes to “surpise me.” I have 13 years worth of clutter gifts i dont want or need. Gifts are tricky. If I had my druthers…it would be a world w/o (what feels like constant) gift giving…LOL!

  • Monika

    Thank you for another interesting resolution. I would like to add another one to that – giving presents should also be done in a thoughtful way. Thoughtful in this context means that you honestly try to please the receiver. So, obviously, this means choosing the gift wisely so that it’s well suited for that particular person, but most of all – giving them the freedom to do whatever they wish with that present without feeling guilty or under pressure to show and prove their grattitude. Often this means accepting that the gift wasn’t the best choice. Getting a present is very nice in itself, but sometimes we spoil the nice moment ‘forcing’ the receiver, or expecting them, to like it, and use it, wear it, or whatever the case may be. A true gift from the heart should be one that intends to make you happy. You got a present – and you’re happy. If the content of the present isn’t what you wished for – exchange it, give it to somebody else, sell it on ebay, do whatever you want with that and I won’t care, because my aim was to make you happy, not to make myself happy by creating an illusion of making you happy.

    I hope this makes sense :-).

    All the best,


    • Veronique

      Monika my sentiments exactly. I love buying gifts and will take a long time choosing because I think so much about the tastes of the person I am buying for. Acquaintances of ours who owns a business give their child, who is frequently a guest in our home, products from their business (that we do not use), to give us as Christmas gifts every year. I try very hard not to be insulted by what my husband and I perceive as an incredibly thoughtless gift. We enjoy having their delightful child as a guest in our home and do not feel the need to be compensated but that they choose to thank us in such a manner seems to us odd at best. I have tried to spin it that they are clearly proud of their products and want to share them but it still just seems thoughtless to me. My husband and I own a business also but don’t give our products as gifts despite the fact that he is an artist and does make some gift specific items! I have given them gifts and gone out of my way to buy them items that would appeal to them so I am a little at a loss how to look at this and would appreciate a new set of eyes.

  • peninith1

    Gifts could be a subject for endless discussion. I once had a relative who literally would regift things her mother-in-law gave her to other relatives as a way of demonstrating that she had not liked them, hoping that they would be ‘shown off’ to the original giver and hurt her feelings. Yikes.

    I get it that there are ‘passive aggressive’ gifts, overwhelming gifts, gifts that you didn’t really wan and gifts that are part of a power struggle and are intended as a way to force or blackmail you into a certain response.

    It is responding to the spirit of a giver who truly means the gift with love and kindness that I think Gretchen is getting at. As a young wife, I did respond appreciatively to some gifts my husband gave me, and later, gently let him know that my taste was a little different from his Mom’s. Otherwise he might have continued to buy me things that suited another person’s hair color and body type for years. Because I could respond to the intention of the gift at the moment I received it, and later GENTLY show the way to something more suitable, we both became happier about gifts in the long run. I have also been givne things I didn’t like that much by relatives I really cared about, and have taken care to bring them out and use them during visits because I KNOW that the gifts were meant in love. I might not have kept them forever, but I didn’t feel compelled to return or reject them right away.

    And gosh, haven’t we who are blessed to be parents all received mud pies or garish rhinestones, or toy trucks ‘for Mom’ before our kids matured. Those things are given from full hearts and should always be received with big hugs!

  • Miljana

    Listen Grechen,
    it’s very simple. The most important is to tel him/her immediately, or a little later,
    that (s)he missed selection.
    If you don’t say you’ll recieve many times unwishable things and be in situation to act
    happiness and deep in your heart you’ll be very unhappy and disappointed. Make it
    clear to donor that he/she did not know you well, or (s)he didn’t think about
    you, when (s)he prepared the gift, and you are disappointed because of that
    reason, not because of one gift.

    • cruella

      Really, I don’t think disappointment should be shown *at all* for whatever reason. Accept the gift graciously and perhaps over time you could open people’s eyes to your tastes and fancies in a non-offensive manner .

  • My favorite passive aggressive gift was from new my husband’s former girlfriend. We had just met for the first time. After greeting and huggung my husband a little too long… she said she got me this little something because she was thinking of me. It was a pin… in the shape of a little heart with a knife stuck through it. We don’t keep in touch. 😉

    • gretchenrubin


      • Joan_RD_CDE

        That’s awful. I can’t imagine who would design such an item, and who would want to buy it. Thank goodness he married you, not her!

  • Abid Ali

    I have learned through my life experiences that if you share even ONE gift of happiness with people, you will receive MULTITUDE of gifts in return. It’s one of the STRANGEST principles of nature!

  • Karen

    I needed this yesterday! My husband picked berries for me to make jam but was home late & I was cross at him. I had much apologising to do and have made the jam, it is fabulous. I have not ever heard such an admonishion as this before, I love it!

  • Jeannie

    This is exactly why my husband and I started giving each other gifts of “experiences” (plays, concerts, activities we could do together) rather than things. It really works for us.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great idea.

  • Miljana

    Dear Cruella, If you like to be actress, better go to the theatre, because it’s very hard to play games all of your life, and so tiresome. Excuse me for my English, I agree with you that it has to be done in non-offensive manners, but if somebody gave you to say wrong thing as a gift, if you are normal person you will be dissapointed. (s)He did his/her best to spoil your mood and joyful moment. So, you can give him/her back immediatelly, through the fun and some sally/joke, as you prefer. Or you’ll be actress all of your life.

  • Lyn

    This is a touching thought on the way to respond to the spirit of a gift. It made me reflect on how I was used to respond to the gift itself instead of the spirit behind it. Thank you for sharing this!

  • I love getting and giving cards, birthday, anniversary, just a because I want to let someone know I care kind of card. I seem to get them in return. A gift is a kiss and hugs happily received by me by my husband, son, daughter, friends, some chosen family and some of my patients. Give and receive, no keeping score. Very simple:)

  • In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we wanted to share these thoughts with you about gift-giving and receiving. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    By Phyllis Koch-Sheras, PhD and Peter Sheras, PhD

    Tired of buying or receiving candy or flowers every year for
    Valentine’s Day? Have trouble shopping
    for holiday presents or even greeting cards?
    The commercialization of Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, can be difficult
    or annoying. (Some people today even think that Valentine’s Day was invented by
    Hallmark!) In the midst of it all, we
    may lose sight of the original meaning of Valentine’s Day which historically
    had to do with sacrifice, love, and the mating of birds in the spring.

    For too many people, Valentine’s Day looms as pressure or
    potential disappointment. What if we
    could find a way to make it a creative opportunity? It’s possible to re-invent Valentine’s Day as
    an enjoyable venture to look forward to every year: Think of Valentine’s Day not as an
    obligation, but as an opportunity to share and show love in a variety of ways.

    Often lovers feel pressured to find the right gift for their
    partner, but it doesn’t have to be about that. It can be about sharing and doing things
    together. The real value is in creating
    a way to celebrate couple rather
    than just making it about buying cards or some material thing. Suggestions for things couples might try:

    Shop for a special joint present together,
    something that will last throughout the year and remind you that Valentine’s
    Day can be every day.

    Go out for a special dinner or celebrate by
    candle light at home. Make sure you talk
    about things other than everyday chores and concerns.

    Write or
    share a favorite poem with each other, and read it out loud at dinner—or in

    Take a
    bath together by candlelight.

    Go on a long walk or hike together to one of
    your favorite places.

    Go dancing together.

    Share a
    meaningful kiss. (If the Obamas can do
    it, so can you! Check out the picture of them kissing at the Inauguration.)

    The important thing is to think about ways to make
    Valentine’s Day a celebration of the couple. Work together as a team. “Being in a relationship is like being part
    of a team, and it’s the team that acts most effectively as a unit that is most
    likely to win. The more effort team
    members devote to teamwork, the more power they can harness to reach their
    goals.” (See Lifelong Love: 4 Steps to
    Creating and Maintaining an Extraordinary Relationship, Chapter Four:
    Cooperation, p.85, by Phyllis Koch-Sheras and Peter Sheras, Harlequin, 2012).

    Here is a link to the
    book and website http://www.couplepower.com
    and Facebook.com/lifelonglovebook.

  • HighWater

    I recently had a chance to exercise this practice on my 2nd wedding anniversary; in my experience, although I made it in enough time to not lessen the moment, it was like swinging a bat through water. Not forced, just a little awkward.

    I felt that it did quell my disappointment, and more importantly, it didn’t spoil the moment of celebration for my husband or myself… which it surely would have with even the most tactful comment. I wasn’t happier, per se, but I feel that when I allow myself to see the fault in one thing, I see many faults, and it’s a bad habit that only puts me in a sour mood.

    I’m frequently left confused by my husband’s choices (a toy collectible for our anniversary, at a time when we’re trying to reduce to move to an apartment?), and though I wish I could find a way to “massage” him towards making better choices, I know what happens when I’m too blunt.

    Before I knew to cherish the spirit, not the gift, my husband would buy me jewelry, invariably with hearts on them. Now, I hate hearts on things. And I loved them anyway because he got them for me, and wore them a lot, although I always eyed those hearts and willed them to fall off. I mentioned lightly, in what I thought was a delicate way after I had worn a favorite bracelet for months, that I would love the bracelet even more if it didn’t have the heart charm, and he thought the heart was the point, where the sentiment was, and was hurt. Now I don’t get jewelry. So, live and learn.

    To the people who bring up the point about being dishonest or lying, I understand what you’re saying, but I think the spirit of this advice is not about lying.

    This advice is about giving yourself room to come to terms with the fact that even Prince Charming is not the best person in the world at finding gifts, but very few people are bad at *giving* gifts, and you should respond to their graciousness in *giving* with your own graciousness in *accepting* — accepting the gift, accepting them with all their flaws, accepting that nobody’s perfect.

  • Linda

    So wise!! I am going to share this with my children also. Gratefulness springs to mind! Thanks.

  • Tina Gunn

    My daughter and I had this exact conversation last night. She understand and somewhat wonders why. But then I explain – what the other person did to give us the gift… spend money or spend their time making it or the thought they had behind the gift. I am sure I will do this a couple hundred more times but the she will understand gratitude before she leaves my house. Which is very important to me, I did not truly understand gratitude until later years.

  • Amanda

    Oh this made me think that I should follow similar advice when I get a
    response or question from someone who is truly trying to engage with what I
    am doing or saying, but maybe just does not really know how. Rather than be
    annoyed by their “ignorance” or taking it as a “fake” attempt to engage, I
    should take it as a good try and respond to the spirit of the communication!