I first want to acknowledge that this is something that I learned from one of my mentors, Dr. Manik Hiranandani in India. I would often be talking with him about disappointing situations in my life when people did not respond in ways that I had hoped they would. It happens to all of us, when you give something and you expect something in return:
“I referred him that patient and he didn’t even write to thank me”, or
“I always listen to her problems, but she never asks me about mine”, or
“I’m going on this yoga retreat and they don’t even seem excited for me or happy that I am taking care of myself”.
These are a few mundane examples of how easy it is to give something or do something and simultaneously expect something in return. This is what is referred to as a ‘transaction’. Transactions almost always lead to disappointment because there are strings attached and the enjoyment or fulfillment is in the hands of the “other”, because we are depending upon a specific response.
A gift is when we give something or do something without expecting anything in return. We do it simply for the sake of doing it and there are no expectations after that. Townes Van Zandt said it best: “I just want to sing for the sake of the song”.
We take pleasure in the original act of referring the patient or listening to the problems or sharing the good news and that is it. It sounds easy, but once you become aware of how many of your interactions are actually tied up in transactions, you will realize that it’s not so easy to let go of the strings.
Now that you are aware of the difference between a gift and a transaction, try paying attention to the nature of your interactions. Take special notice of your expectations of others. Ask yourself if you think it is possible to let go of the expectations. If you practice this, it will make you much happier.
By David B. Younger, Ph.D