December is in full swing and it’s time to begin choosing those perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. For some, this is accomplished with ease and delight but for many, it’s considered a torturous ordeal. By taking a closer look at why humans are compelled to give gifts, what to aim for when making a selection, and provide some giving suggestions that fit these criteria, I hope to dispel some of the pressure you may be feeling as you head to the nearest shopping mall.
There are many articles that suggest humans give gifts to off-set the balance in a relationship in their favor. The giver is now “owed” something in return for the item that was given, placing them in a position of power. I find this view quite cynical and although I can see historical applications, especially in a political or business context, I think on a more basic level we simply give presents because we value the people we are giving them to. We want to express our appreciation for the role they play in our lives and thank them for going out of their way to make our lives better. Sometimes we give gifts out of a deep emotional bond and sometimes simply for the pure joy of sharing a portion of what we’ve been blessed with, knowing full well it will never be reciprocated.
For most of us, we are shopping for people we truly want to make happy rather than just fulfilling a social obligation. We worry about choosing just the right thing and often feel that we need to spend a significant amount of money to show how much we value the recipient. Peter Bregman, a contributor to the Harvard Business Review refutes this viewpoint:
“… Here’s a common misconception: the bigger, more valuable the gift, the more it expresses our appreciation. I know people who’ve received huge stock grants who feel severely under-appreciated.
Because gifts don’t express appreciation, people do. And when people don’t express it, neither do their gifts.”
Appreciating someone for who they are as a person and for what they mean to you personally can be one of the most powerful gifts you’ll ever give. So how, exactly, do you convey this through a present? The following tips should help you get started:
- Spend some time really thinking about the person you’re buying for.
According to the British Journal of Social Psychology, women tend to be better at selecting gifts than men. The study found that women’s superior gift selecting skills correlated with a greater interest in other people. However, anyone who takes time to notice someone’s favorite color, hobbies, routines, likes and dislikes, can pinpoint a few thoughtful ideas.
- Recognize that the gift is meant for them, not you.
All too often we lean toward items that spark our own interest rather than the special someone we are hoping to please. In Psychology Today’s article, “The Narcissist’s Guide to Gift Giving”, the poorest gift-givers are likely to be those who have the personality quality of narcissism and lack empathy. Perhaps your sister’s obsession with cats is completely foreign to you, but attempting to understand her passion will help you select a gift that is thoughtful and well-received.
- Be sensitive to special circumstances.
Try to be mindful of the emotional and physical impact of items you select. If someone is working hard to live a healthier lifestyle, avoid gifts of food or candy. Opt for a high-quality journal for recording progress or items that will help the person be successful as they work toward their goals. If someone has just lost a loved one, be especially sensitive to their feelings of loneliness over the holidays and consider giving them the gift of your time. Meeting for coffee or swinging by to help with a household chore will mean more than anything bought at a store.
- It’s the thought that counts, not the money.
We’re so stressed about whether or not a certain person will “like” what we got them or worry that they won’t be “impressed” if we don’t spend a large amount on their present when in fact, most people are just happy we cared enough to give them a present! We seem to feel social norms more acutely when giving a gift than when we receive one. It’s important to keep that in mind during the weeks ahead as you hunt for gifts. Maybe it doesn’t have to be perfect after all.
I’d like to wrap this up (pun intended) by suggesting a gift idea that’s bound to make someone on your list smile.
Re-Gifting with a Twist:
This idea is about re-gifting a memory. Think back to a moment in time that was significant to you because of the person you’re giving the gift to. It could be a funny thing that happened on a family vacation, a specific time when a friend did something above and beyond, or a special day spent with a loved one. Your “gift” can be as simple as writing down the moment in detail and then “giving it back” to the person. It costs nothing but will be priceless to the recipient. You can also build on the theme and expand the memory. Here’s my personal example…
When I was 6, I received an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. The next morning, I got up at the crack of dawn and made French Toast on the tiny griddle all by myself. It was only partially cooked in places (what do you expect when cooking over a light bulb?) but my mom ate it anyway and praised my culinary abilities. This year I’m writing out the details of that memory for my 86-year-old Mom and tucking it inside a basket along with all the ingredients for making French Toast. This Christmas, almost 50 years later, I want her to not only know that I have mastered the art of cooking breakfast but that I appreciate and remember each and every encouraging word and action she’s shown me throughout my life and I appreciate her more than she will ever know.
Have fun thinking of your own special memories to “re-gift” and remember… it doesn’t have to be perfect. The simple act of writing a note of appreciation and thanking someone for just being who they are is enough. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year!
Mary Baker, M.Ed
Marketing Director & Health Coach
To read more blog posts written by Mary, click here.