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The Etiquette of Gratitude: How to Elegantly Receive A Gift

There’s nothing quite like opening a personalized gift from a loved one, is there? Whether it’s the perfect housewarming present or something you find under your Christmas tree, the feeling of receiving a gift is one of the best sensations in life.

These days, however, I’ve heard a common yet unexpected sentiment about this feeling: people feel awkward about receiving gifts! There is no reason for this to be the case, and I have a feeling that the issue is more a lack of guidance on the matter than anything else.

To help you get back in touch with the joy of gift-getting, I’ve put together this quick guide.

two pink and white gift boxes with ribbon
Photo by Jill Wellington on

Shifting Your Gift-Getting Mindset From Obligation To Gratitude

It would seem that the embarrassment many people feel toward receiving gifts stems from the idea that the present somehow comes with a built-in obligation to the person who gave it to you. You now “owe” this person something – often a vague and undefined favor that you can’t put into words.

This is nonsense. Or it ought to be, considering that historically the giving of gifts is by nature non-obligatory. If someone gives you something in order to secure favors, then it isn’t a gift in the first place! Keep this in mind when opening a present. This gift is more of a compliment, a signal that you are highly thought of or respected by whoever gave it to you.

Even when the gift is connected to an occasion where gift exchange is expected, the gesture is still inherently one of generosity and goodwill. Perhaps the memory of times where you felt you had failed to give someone a gift when you should have haunts you. Even so, such knee-jerk feelings of embarrassment aren’t useful, and this kind of awkwardness can be easily navigated.

If someone has brought you a gift and you feel you have failed to reciprocate when you should have, well-expressed gratitude will almost always overwhelm any awkwardness that might ensue. By warmly showing how touched you are by their kindness, you will communicate clearly that your heart is where it is supposed to be, physical symbols notwithstanding.

When you are given a gift, make a conscious effort to push aside any lingering feeling of obligation that might come with it. The reasons for your embarrassment aren’t important in the moment and should be turned aside with firm intention. Instead, try to think of three reasons why you are grateful to be a recipient, and communicate those reasons to the person doing the giving!

photo of women hugging each other in gratitude for a gift
Photo by Anna Shvets on

Learn the Art of The Elegant Gift Follow-Up

Historically speaking, getting and giving gifts was considered an art with clear guidelines and manners surrounding the practice. Like so many of our more “formalized” traditions of etiquette, these guides have largely been lost, forgotten, or have failed to be passed on to us by our parents and elders.

The loss of these guidelines is a topic for another post, but when it comes to receiving gifts I think it is useful to refresh our manners. One of the expectations for receiving a gift was that of the follow-up.

After getting a present, naturally you will verbally and physically express gratitude if the giver is with you in person. This is not where the expression ends, however – it should be expected that you will later follow-up the gift with a phone call, a note, or even a token of appreciation in the form of a gift given in return (this depends on the occasion, of course).

Ninety-nine percent of the time, a brief note will do. Personally I find this to be the most elegant as well as the easiest form of follow-up. It is my opinion that any person seeking to be well-mannered and elegant ought to have on hand a packet of stationery just for this purpose. A note of just a few sentences expressing your gratitude and appreciation for the specific gift or gesture you were given is often deeply respected by the person who gave it to you.

A follow-up text, when well written, might also suffice if the giver is a close friend, and a longer email is also a fine way to follow up. Calling the person on their phone is also a brief but thoughtful way to do this, though you should take into account the giver’s preferences on this matter.

Whatever your method, I would encourage everyone to make the gift follow-up an automatic habit. Not only is it a sign of good manners, but it also eliminates most of the awkwardness many recipients feel after getting a gift. I would even venture to say that this common sense of embarrassment exists because we have lost the art of the follow-up but still feel the lingering sense of it in our lives.

Five minutes of your time is all a follow-up need take, but it can make a world of difference in how you are viewed when receiving a present.

blank elegant note paper behind bouquet of blooming flowers
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Stop Overthinking Your Body Language

When receiving gifts in person, a lot of people state that they simply “don’t know how to act” as the recipient. Personally, I find that what they are really saying is that they “are overthinking how to act and convincing themselves that it needs to be complicated.”

Again, basic manners will almost always fill in the gaps when it comes to common social situations like these. All that is or ought to be expected of you is a smile and a warm, focused “thank you, this is such a great gift!” Whether it is a great gift or not is irrelevant. What you’re actually saying thank you for is the fact that this person went through the effort and thought of procuring it.

Of course it’s good form to add a few words to your thank you about how you’ll use the gift or why you love it, but this isn’t really necessary. As long as you give a smile and make eye contact with the gift-giver, you’ve fulfilled your etiquette imperative and the other person is likely satisfied. Turning the interaction over in your head and fueling your anxiety is simply taking extra steps that need not exist.

I will restate my opinion that much of our anxiety in gift-getting situations is due to the loss of what used to be general knowledge – the dependable scripts and behaviors that we call “manners.” There is nothing disingenuous about following these scripts and having a specific set of behaviors you engage in each time you are a recipient of a present.

People inherently understand these scripts as a signal of gratitude and good breeding; that is why manners exist as a form of communication in the first place!

cup of aromatic cappuccino with thank you words on foam
Photo by wewe yang on

In Conclusion, It’s All About Gift-Getter Graciousness.

The term gracious describes someone who is “courteous, kind, and pleasant” according to the Oxford dictionary. These qualities are for the most part simple to possess – they are just good manners!

The art of receiving gifts is not a vague and open-ended concept. In every culture on Earth there is a set of manners specifically relating to this social occasion, and all one needs to do is learn these manners and rely on them. Whether it is through a simple smile or a brief but thoughtful note, being an elegant gift recipient is all about communicating gratitude.

The next time you are unwrapping a present, don’t give your mind room to make an awkward mountain out of a molehill. At the end of the day, you control the way you think and behave, and all that’s wanted from you is your happiness.

Do you suffer from gift-getting anxiety? Share your thoughts and experiences! Thank you as always for reading, and I can’t wait to hear from you <3

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Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

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