Gifts are not simply objects we give one another. They can have deeper symbolic meaning, help in maintaining relationships and expressing feelings. Giving and receiving gifts is a way of communicating and fostering social bonds. It feels good to receive and gift and feel cared of and appreciated and it also feels good to give a gift and feel like a generous person.
Certain gift giving rituals are cultural. For example, buying presents for your family on Christmas or getting your friend a present for her birthday. Gifts which are given outside of these socially common occasions also have a certain meaning. Giving a gift to someone means you thought about that person, you invested your time and money to get them something.
Why do we give gifts?
There are three reasons why we give presents to one another. We feel socially obliged to give. Generosity is a part of our nature. Once we receive a gift, we are socially obliged to accept that gift. And following gift reception, we feel obliged to repay the favour.
On one hand, we give gifts to other because of altruistic reasons. Altruism means doing something selflessly to benefit the well-being of others. You buy a present for someone so that the he or she feels good and is happy. However, getting a gift for someone is never a one-way street. Giving also makes the giver feel good. Giving gifts can also be used as a way of self-enhancement. The giver feels generous and valuable.
What does a good giver look like?
Some people are simply better at getting gifts than others. A good gift-giver follows a certain social pattern. He should be creative in his choice of gift, empathetic towards the receiver and should use his time, money and effort intuitively. While getting a girl you’re dating flowers is a good move, buying her a car might seem a bit over the top. But feel free to decide for yourself.
Is there such a thing as a perfect gift?
Research suggests that the perfect gift should have the following six characteristics. Let’s imagine that Donna bought Felix the perfect watch for Christmas. Her investment of time and money illustrates that she sacrificed something for the gift. Her only intention behind the gift was to make Felix happy. The watch is a luxury, something that Felix would not have bought otherwise. It is the perfect gift because the watch is appropriate for Felix and although it is something Felix wanted, he was surprised by the gift. All in all, it made him happy and that is why the watch was the perfect gift for him.
However, spending hours of your life in search for a perfect gift for someone, might not be the best strategy. Even if a gift seems perfect when you are buying it, you can never guarantee the enthusiasm and appreciation with which it will be received. Imagine that in addition to Donna’s perfect watch, Felix also got a watch from his parents. Suddenly the perfect gift does not seem so perfect.
Gifts are a way of developing and maintaining relationships. A physical object can connect two people. A gift can say a lot about the giver, the recipient and their relationship. How well do we know the other person? How close are we? There always needs to be some sort of relationships prior to gift giving. The relationship between the two people also determines how the gift is received.
Gender differences in gift giving
Christmas is the time for presents. It’s been suggested that women are the driving forces behind festive celebrations, make an effort to make Christmas better each year and are much more involved in gift-giving. But even outside of the Christmas season women give more gifts than they receive. The only occasion when men give more gifts was in romantic relationships, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Research also suggests than women treasure meaningful symbolic gifts whereas men value gifts based on how useful they are.
How to receive a gift?
Even if a gift is bought with the best intentions in the world, it does not have to received that way. How a gift is received depends on a number of things such as the recipient’s expectations, gifting history, gender, cultural values and perceptions of the relationship with the giver.
Acting surprised, pleased and grateful after receiving a gift does not always come natural to us all. Especially so, when the gift we got is not exactly what we were hoping for, wanted or needed. While saying “thank you” is almost a social obligation, people often feel the need to show more gratitude than they actually feel, because don’t want to hurt the feelings of the giver.
The social taboo of regifting gifts
And since we are talking about giving presents, we mustn’t forget to mention the deadly sin of gift giving – regifting. Some people consider this social taboo to be distasteful and rude, while others see it as a practicality. In reality, it all depends on the circumstances, regifting a gift which was given as a symbol of close friendship between two people might have negative effects on the relationship. However, in general, the recipients of the gifts view regifting in a more negative way, than it is perceived by the gift giver. After all, giving a gift should be about making the other person happy. What if it makes them happy to pass the gift on to someone else? I’ll leave the answer to that question up to you.
Gifts and presents are always a two-way street. There is a reason why we evolved to be generous and giving is an inseparable part of our lives. It’s a way for us to connect with others and make the people around us feel like they matter. Being generous therefore not only makes the world around us a better place to live in, but also makes us into better people.