As we enter the season of gift giving and buying, it is important to step back and put our needs, wants, and desires in perspective.
What exactly are we hoping to accomplish when we give a gift to someone we care about? Is buying something the best type of gift to accomplish our goal?
Roy Bennett in The Light in the Heart writes: “Help others without any reason and give without the expectation of receiving anything in return.”
But the giver does benefit in return. One reason we give gifts is because it feels good. In return for a gift, we receive gratitude from others, or our social standing is enhanced, or we feel more positive about ourselves as being good people.
There are also physical benefits from being a giver. In the article "The Effects of Giving on Givers" Sara Konrath and Stephanie Brown conclude that giving can activate positive emotions which has been shown to relieve stress and is correlated with better health. According to David Linden, in Psychology Today, this happens because giving activates the pleasure centers of our brain and releases dopamine.
Karen Baquiran writes, “With an attitude of gratitude, you can't go wrong. You are already putting it out there into the universe that you are ready to receive more.”
While this makes receiving a gift sound natural, it is much harder to be the recipient than the giver. The giver is in control of the situation. The recipient, on the other hand, is vulnerable. They must take care not to offend the giver. They must watch their words and show appropriate gratitude.
The recipient may feel they are bound or in debt in some way to the giver and be under pressure to return an equal value gift.
At the same time, the act of being grateful can benefit our health. People who express gratitude and thank those who help them sleep better, have higher self-esteem, are more resilient, and are more likely to help others. (Douglas Main Five Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.)
So both the giving and the getting can be of mutual benefit. But when giving is forced- when gifts are chosen based on convenience or cost or out of desperation, all these wonderful benefits can be lost. To reduce the stress of giving and to make the act a giving a truly positive experience, ask the following:
Does a gift have to be bought to have value?
Does a purchased gift best meet the needs of the recipient?
Can I give a gift of time? - i.e. Visit, take the person somewhere, or do something with the person
Can I give the gift of attention? - i.e. Make something for them - a quilt, a baked good, and deliver it personally
Can I give the gift of caring? - i.e. Go shopping for them, help them organize or clean, pet sit or babysit.
has written: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
So if you are one of those people busy making shopping lists, rushing to the store for Black Friday discounts or spending a fortune on online items you are not even sure will be as great as advertised, consider changing your approach to giving. Give a gift that matters.
More on Gift Giving from Teach Peace Now