Gift giving as an institution has persisted perhaps as long as society itself. We’ve all experienced the sense of obligation that comes with an approaching holiday or birthday, and we’ve also all experienced the positivity on the receiving end of a gift. It’s good for everyone to at some time or another sit down and examine the institutions that make up our interactions in order to better participate in them. Here’s some information about the process of gift-giving that might help you become a better gift-giver.
Human Generosity Seems to be Innate
Occasionally, we can become weary of gift giving, as it might seem like a pointless chore we only do out of expectation. This jaded view pops up most often around the holiday season when it seems gifts are required for everyone from co-workers to third cousins. But that overwhelming season aside, there is research to suggest that generosity with no regard for personal benefit might actually be an innate trait universal among humans. Experiments that placed subjects in a situation where they could choose to benefit either themselves or a stranger they will never meet, with the condition that their choice would remain anonymous, the majority choice to aid others. For most people, gift giving is a selfless act and one done without anticipation of reciprocity, but for others it becomes a stressful situation in which they can’t decide how much to spend for fear the other person will spend more and be disappointed.
Gift-Giving Has Psychological Benefits
This one might not be surprising if you can recall the rush of happiness upon seeing someone receive a gift from you that they love. This feeling has been shown to improve mental well-being. In many cases, the feeling of giving is reporter as stronger than the feeling of receiving. As strange as it may seem, you might be getting more satisfaction from that French-imported limoges box than your grandmother, even though she absolutely loves it.
Gift-giving brings other benefits such as strengthening bonds and can be particularly useful in reconciling relational rifts. Of course, if expectations between the giver and receiver are mismatched gifts can instead be a source of stress rather than a de-stressor, so good communication of expectations is recommended.
“Personalized” Gifts Have a Downside
Remember that It’s “the thought that counts”, and many gift-givers try to put thought into a gift by choosing a gift that is representative of the person they are gifting to. But there’s a problem that comes with personalized gifts. These types of gifts tend to be focused on a person’s stable traits rather than what they want or need. To give an example, you might want to give a joke book to Joe because he’s a funny guy. Unfortunately, Joe already knows a lot of jokes (hence, why he’s funny) and likely won’t use the book much. Additionally, straight-up asking about that piece of jewelry you’ve had your eye on for someone might feel awkward, but it can prevent disappointment and misspent money.
Similarly, if a person is deep into a hobby they likely have specific preferences that are opaque to a person not in that hobby’s world. In this counterintuitive sense, it’s best to avoid giving related gifts unless they were specifically asked for. Focusing on what you already know a person wants or needs, perhaps by buying a refill of a consumable luxury they use, can help avoid this pitfall.