The art of getting gifts

Receiving gifts can be good — or bad, depending on the gift, the giver or the recipient.

Last Christmas, for example, three dogs were among the recipients of gifts from me, courtesy of the Orvis catalog: beautifully outfitted stuffed teddy bears, whose tummies and paws squeaked when squeezed.

Riptide, my friend Heather’s 165-pound, brown Newfoundland, after sitting in front of me and offering his large paw, grabbed the bear the moment I opened the package, disregarding the tissue paper. He chomped on it a second or two, discovered the squeakers and enthusiastically played with the bear, quite pleased as it squeaked madly, even though he owns many other squeaky toys.

The next day I went over to my neighbors’ house to give Bella, the white Labradoodle, her bear gift. She obediently sat in front of me, barely glancing at the bear gift when I opened it. She never even attempted to open her mouth to make it squeak. She just wanted me to stroke her while the bear toy sat silently on the coffee table.

When Ginger, the Jack Russell terrier, received her squeaky bear toy, I wasn’t there since Ginger and her owners, my cousins Marshall and Janice, live in North Carolina. But I suspect that what made Ginger happiest at the time was that her nemesis, Maisie the 18-year-old cat, had to be put down, making Ginger the one and only pet in the house.

Clearly, gifts can be received in different ways. Take the Republican tax cut that President Donald Trump consistently sold as a gift to the middle class, something that would help them enormously.

But many were less than thrilled with the deal once they realized that while a few families might get a slightly bigger tax break — for a year or two — not being able to deduct all of their state and local taxes and rising health insurance premiums offset any small tax break. Hardly a gift.

On the other hand, the well-known Conservative Republican donors, the Koch brothers and the Mercer family, top members of the “1 percent,” surely must have been delighted with their huge tax breaks. Like Bella, the Labradoodle, they love being stroked — in their case, by the Republicans in Congress, payback for support.

How we receive gifts also can be psychological. For example, there are some people, young and old, who, for many reasons, don’t believe they deserve gifts. They just don’t feel worthy. A former boyfriend consistently gave expensive gifts to his estranged wife and his step children, never expecting anything in return. He tended to minimize gifts I gave him, preferring to receive nothing.

Then there are those people who are never satisfied and never seem to have enough. They believe the gifts they receive are not expensive enough, do not bear the right labels or do not fit their self-image. They never consider the giver and/or his or her circumstances at all.

Of course, the ideal gift recipient resembles Riptide, who enjoys his gifts enormously and makes great use of them. And if he could talk, I know he would say thank you.

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing." Her email is

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