Generosity can take an ugly turn into resentment

For many people, including me, giving a gift is more gratifying than receiving one. One reason I’ve always enjoyed giving is that it makes me feel generous.

Generosity is often equated with charity as a virtue and is widely accepted in society as a desirable trait. While I am happy to be categorized as virtuous, it is important to point out that generosity is also defined as the habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return. This is where generosity sometimes takes an ugly turn into resentment.

Because I am a very frugal person, I rarely just buy a gift to buy a gift. I usually spend a lot of time and energy thinking about what the receiver might actually like. The result of this is that I don’t want the person just to appreciate the fact that I gave them a gift; I want them to love it. Because I’ve always expected something in return—praise, appreciation, gratitude—my gift giving is not truly generous.

Take Christmas 2001 for example. That year was particularly difficult financially for my family. After suffering a huge financial set-back, we could barely afford to buy a few gifts for the kids, let alone our friends and family. After much deliberation, I had, what I thought, was a great gift idea. I made fortune cookies with painstakingly written custom fortunes inside. Wrapped in takeout boxes, I thought they made cute and thoughtful gifts.

Gift giving day was an eye-opening experience. I was greeted with odd looks and a more than a few people said, “So, what now? Am I supposed to eat this?” When my euphoria turned to tears, I declared (to myself) that I was never going to give gifts to “those people” ever again.

Of course, much like my pledge never to overeat at Thanksgiving again, that’s not what happened. In fact, I’m in the process of creating my list and checking it twice right now. What I have done, however, is to lower my expectations. I still want people to love what I give them, but I’m not counting on it. Instead, I try to focus on the joy of gift giving, savoring the rituals of choosing and wrapping.

Since I am still seeking something in return—joy from the act of giving—I can’t be categorized as generous gift giver. However, I am grateful for every small step I make toward generosity.  

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.