JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - December 2019
The Wisest Gifts of All
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
O.Henry, in the beautiful story The Gift of the Magi, tells us about a couple who loved each other so much they sold their most precious things to buy a gift for the other. I read the story again and more deeply appreciated Jim’s love for Della, selling his beloved watch for her much wanted hair combs. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy him a fob chain for his watch. O. Henry ends by saying, “But in the last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest.”
The two parts to this story are giving and receiving. Giving selflessly is highly esteemed and encouraged while receiving is less often viewed as praise-worthy, and is misunderstood. Brene Brown, author of many books on vulnerability, writes about this as an openness to “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” This is more of the palm-up receptivity to one’s inner experience, people, and external experiences. Taking in something means we have needs, wants and emotions. She says, “If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it.”
So often in life, and our description of it in books, TV shows, movies, and music, we hear or see the glorification of being tough, unfeeling and surely, not vulnerable. It is thought of as a weakness. Dr Brown asked many people to say what vulnerability meant to them. In summary of these statements she says, “ Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”
We know that giving can feel good. Much research indicates that giving activates the brain in very positive ways. Positive experiences like touch, complements, and social support also give us a neurochemical fix. There is a catch. Our brains are also wired to take in negative experiences more quickly (zero seconds) than positive ones (15-20 seconds.) This negativity bias of the brain helped our ancestors survive. Recognizing danger quickly could save lives. Today the brain’s negativity bias does not serve us as well. It actually increases our stress level needlessly and impairs our happiness, and general quality of life.
The way to change our brains is training them for positivity. Since it takes a positive experience longer to register in the brain it is important to focus on positive things and recognize them when they are present. For example, think about how many times a day you might receive a complement, encouragement, praise, gratitude, or other forms of love, connection or support. Did you recognize these when they happened? Did you receive them by taking the fifteen to twenty seconds to process the information?
It is like a good meal. We think about it, we see it, taste it and savor the flavor. It is the anticipation, the multisensory process, and the act of taking it in and savoring it.
Years ago, someone suggested keeping a file of positive things people had said or events in which I had been successful. Recently a researcher mentioned the same idea as a way to help us take in the positive. It does work.
Amanda Owen, in her book The Power of Receiving, outlines three steps to help us be better receivers: accept all compliments, count your blessings (have gratitude) and be spiritually naked. Her third step is a short version of the topics Brene Brown covers in depth in her books about vulnerability. It is probably the hardest.
As we approach the season of giving, perhaps we should give equal thought to receiving. Both are such important aspects of good mental, physical and spiritual health. Perhaps we can be the wisest ones of all, like the young couple O.Henry tells us about. Enjoy giving and receiving!
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to