The gift of giving

Copious amounts of food and heating beckon as the prospect of the Christmas holidays draws nearer. The age old tradition of gift giving is practiced by humans all over the globe especially at this time of year, and whether you’re more of a big spender or prefer the hand-made approach, why is it in our human nature to give gifts and is it really true that it is better to give than to receive?

It has been speculated that gift giving could have evolved from early humans learning the benefits of food sharing as it may have lead to food being given back to them in return. From here, it is thought that males could have used this idea as a courtship strategy to impress their chosen mate.

Present giving is usually viewed as an act of altruism, although the idea that there is no such thing as a good deed springs to mind, as there is no denying the feeling of satisfaction you get when you know you have given the perfect gift. This can be further evidenced by certain studies which have shown that giving activates the same part of the brain as receiving a reward.  As well as this, some psychological theorists’ motives for offering gifts can come across as plain selfish, for example displaying your wealth, reducing guilt, reinforcing an insecure but highly valued friendship, or simply complying with social norms.

Many a dilemma can occur when it comes to choosing the gift as we have to assess which present is suitable for each receiver, for example, I reeled with horror when my Granny thought it appropriate to give me playboy bunny socks which read ‘sexy’ whereas if it had been a cheeky gift from my boyfriend all would have been well.

It seems many of us are guilty of getting it wrong present-wise as The British Psychological Society found that in a sample of 200 people who recalled receiving weddings gifts, the couples who received gifts straight from their weddings lists were happier than the ones who had been given surprises. It can also be all too easy to fall prey to the tricks of the advertisers as they obtain the key to our subconscious from their understanding of consumer psychology especially when it comes to the last minute Christmas Eve shoppers, as we become pressured into buying potentially unwanted gifts. However a well chosen gift from knowing your recipient well will be appreciated no matter how much time or money was spent.

So whether you give gifts for seduction, competitiveness, social norms or genuine generosity, for many, gift giving is purely an expression of gratitude for the relationship which we have between loved ones.

Hayley Williams


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