I recently read a great article on gift giving and learned a lot of interesting new information on the subject. The article, titled “A Gift That Gives Right Back? The Giving Itself” discusses various studies and facts supporting the idea that gift-giving benefits the giver just as much, if not more, than the recipient because it gives us pleasure to know that we have made someone else feel good.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. I mean, we all know how good it feels to spoil a loved one with a thoughtful gift. It's one of the ways that we express our feelings towards them and let them know that we are thinking of them. As the article’s author, Tara Parker-Pope states, “Gift giving is often the most obvious way a partner can show interest (or) strengthen a bond.”
Ellen J. Langer, a Harvard psychology professor, says, “Giving to others reinforces our feelings for them and makes us feel effective and caring.”
This is further supported by evidence showing that giving a gift to even a pet, who is unable to give a gift back, also makes the giver feel good.
A study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University concluded that pet owners enjoyed giving to their pets because they knew it would make the animals feel happy and cared for. Tracy Ryan, an associate professor of advertising research at the university, said of the study, “It shows that a lot of the pleasure is in the giving, knowing you’ve taken care of someone.”
In the article, Parker-Pope also talks about gift giving throughout history: “For thousands of years, some native cultures have engaged in the potlatch, a complex ceremony that celebrates extreme giving. Often the status of a given family in a clan or village was dictated not by who had the most possessions, but instead by who gave away the most. The more lavish and bankrupting the potlatch, the more prestige gained by the host family.”
She also notes that throughout the ages men considered to be generous have been found to be reproductively successful and popular with women, while generous women were excellent supporters of their families.
But the thing I found most interesting was the discussion of gift giving during the holidays. As Parker-Pope points out, it’s no secret that many people find the holidays to be too commercialized. For this reason, some people choose to eliminate gift giving from their celebrations. Others decide not to participate in the exchange of gifts simply to save money.
A more reasonable solution is to simply reduce spending, limiting it to a budgeted amount. By opting out of exchanging gifts altogether, people deprive themselves and their loved ones, preventing them from experiencing the joy of giving.
According to the article, “Psychologists say that banning the gift exchange with loved ones is not the best solution. People who refuse to accept or exchange gifts during the holidays, these experts say, may be missing out on an important connection with family and friends.”
And that, says Dr. Langer, “doesn’t do a service to the relationship. If I don’t let you give me a gift, then I’m not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities. You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving.”