This week, systemic coaches Zita Tulyahikayo and James Pereira QC discuss the dynamics of giving and receiving and the importance of practising gratitude.
The holiday season is a time of giving and receiving. In its various shapes and forms we are giving and we are receiving love. The fine art of balanced giving and receiving is the foundation upon which all our relationships rest. We have all experienced the discomfort of being given too much or feeling that we have not received enough, and the disruption to the harmony of the relationship that follows. Similarly we are familiar with the sense of peace we experience when there is a balance of giving and receiving.
The dynamics of giving and receiving influence our professional lives just as they do our personal lives.
A person works hard for a law firm, loves their job and their boss appreciates the commitment. In return they are paid well for the work they do. They accepts their pay graciously with a sense of gratitude. They spend their money wisely buying experiences that enrich their experience of life and all those they love and care for. In return, they gift their gratitude through kind, loving gestures and gifts. They feel fulfilled, loved and valued. And so when a new year starts they feel the need to give back a little more. They start to tend more consciously to their own wellbeing, which in turn supports professional performance. As a result they start to attract more clients to the firm. Their boss notices the improvement in performance and offers a pay rise to reflect the added value. Each year the cycle of growth on growth repeats.
The need for balance
But what happens when those relationships are not equal? Christmas can throw us into disarray. Time spent with our parents propels us back into relationships where mostly the parents give and the children receive. Over time these roles can seem to reverse, as elderly parents are increasingly dependent on their children for support. These relationship dynamics can trigger all sorts of uncomfortable feelings that perhaps we would rather not face. We may be reminded of a feeling that we did not receive enough from our parents. We may feel pressured into giving more than we can afford in order to meet expectations and demands, which can raise feelings of resentment. We may feel uncomfortable receiving the generous gifts of others, because we do not feel worthy of receiving them in turn the gift creates a sense of debt. These uncomfortable feelings can cause us to act out in other ways, some of which can be a bit of a good mood killer.
In these moments where balance cannot be achieved, we can acquire equilibrium in other ways. One of the most powerful and often underrated ways to support and maintain equilibrium in relationships is to practise gratitude. Studies in understanding what best supports our wellbeing and mental health cite gratitude as having a significant impact. People who count their blessings experience a greater sense of peace and contentment, and are more likely to succeed and are less likely to feel depressed and anxious.
When people were tested it was found that even those who were already fairly content in life reported significantly better mental health than those who focussed on what was wrong in life or not going as well as they might like. They also noted that they were better able to find solutions to problems as a result of focussing on what they were grateful for.
The simple things we can be grateful for are often the things we tend to take for granted; clean drinking water, good food to eat, warm clothes to wear. Obvious as these might seem, their value is considerable if we take a moment to consider how different life would be without them.
Gratitude maintains order
Our life is perhaps the greatest gift of all, without our parents and grandparents and all those who came before them we would not have the luxury of such a privilege. Each generation before us had it harder than we do today, yet their ability to survive and create life is worthy of considerable gratitude. Just acknowledging that marvel is a good start. Yet acknowledging the gift of our life can be troubling too. What a gift, how can we ever repay it? Other relationships can create similar dynamics: how do we thank the teachers who taught us and guided us to succeed through school and university, to sit comfortably as we do today excelling in the noble profession that is the law?
In these relationships, the disparity can seem insurmountable. Parents and teachers are primarily givers, children and students the receivers. The disparity may be moderated when as adults, the children give to the parents, and the former student shares with others the knowledge they have acquired. Yet this still does not satisfy the sense of imbalance we feel for our unearned good fortune. This is the value that gratitude offers: it fills that space. It is the expression of genuine gratitude that remains one of the most effective means to maintain a sense of order in our world.
When we stand in gratitude for life, as it is, the benefits are tremendous. Studies have also found that gratitude improves our physical health, our immune systems are stronger, blood pressure is normalised, we sleep better and feel more refreshed when we wake up. Then there are the psychological benefits, more positive emotions, more joy and pleasure, greater optimism and happiness. And socially, our gratitude reaps benefits too; we are more helpful, generous and kind. We are more forgiving, outgoing and well thought of. Most significantly, clients like service providers who are grateful for their business.
We wish you a very Merry Christmas. May it be full of peace and good will. We bow in gratitude for your support of Loving Legal Life and The Libra Partnership. Happy New Year!
The authors can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Loving Legal Life will return in the New Year.