Giving vs. Receiving: How Giving to Others is More Important Than What You Get Back

Your happiness should be in your control. Your partner, your friends, your family, and your career may all play a role in your happiness levels, but in theory, it’s important that you’re the one in control of whether or not you’re content, and how you view the actions that others make in your life.

We see this especially with the idea of giving, whether it’s:

  • Gifts
  • Behaviors
  • Support

We are all frequently giving to others, whether it’s giving actual items, giving our time, or giving of ourselves in some ways. But one mistake that many people make is that they give, with the expectation of receiving something that they consider of equal or greater value in return.

This can often be a problem. When you give – whether it’s an actual item or giving of yourself – and expect something in return, you’re what’s called “giving conditionally.” You are not giving to give. Rather, you are giving with the intention of receiving something of value in return.

For example, perhaps you lend a shoulder for a friend that recently struggled with a breakup. You then may expect that the next time you’re faced with a challenge, that your friend will be there for you in return. Or perhaps you are at the grocery store, and you find an ice cream brand that your wife or husband loves, and surprise them with it. But that you also hope that, in exchange, they’ll provide you with surprises in the future, give you some intimacy, or otherwise repay you in some way.

Another example may be that you give a gift to someone hoping for a big reaction, and find that they do not react to the gift the way you expected (thus, they did not “return” the gift back to you in the form of extreme happiness), which in turn causes disappointment.

Avoiding Expectations

One of the challenges that this creates is that it sets expectations that may be difficult for the other person to meet. Then, if you don’t receive exactly what you expected in return (even if you still did receive something in return), you’ll find yourself unhappy and disappointed.

Doing so put your own happiness in the hands of others. In a way, your act of doing something for someone else made your life worse, not better, because you expected more than you received. It helps change that perspective – give to those that matter to you without expectation of receiving anything back, and don’t allow your own happiness to be dependent on their reaction or reciprocation, so that you stay in control of your own emotions and behaviors.