Dr. Meagan Stanley
Q: Help! I hate gifts, what do I do during the holiday season?
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Understanding the emotions behind giving and receiving gifts during the holidays.
I hear about this all the time and yet, very infrequently do we think about why this is the case. Often, someone’s distaste for gifts is thought of as a quirky personality trait, similar to people who either love or hate their birthdays. But both gift-giving and receiving can evoke a lot of emotions.
Out of curiosity, I reviewed some scientific literature on the subject. Unsurprisingly, much of reasoning for why people buy gifts is due to cultural expectations and consumerism. Within social psychology, it is theorized that social exchange theory can explain this behavior, and that gifts are given to fulfill social obligation and express gratitude. As a social psychology major in college, I specifically remember discussing at length if altruism can be fully actualized in humans—the answer is highly contested. This is to say: can people give gifts completely selflessly or is there always a secondary motive?
From a developmental standpoint, much of how you feel about receiving gifts can be traced back to your early childhood experiences. I know most people have vivid memories of what holiday gifting was like in their family. I find these memories to be such an interesting snapshot of your family’s dynamics and something I urge you to reflect on. While on this topic, I found a Forbes article that examined excessive gift giving. The author discussed what drives parents to buy presents for their children:
Some people think they’ll disappoint their children if they don’t lavish them with gifts. But I’ve found that with kids, gift satisfaction is usually very short term. And even early on, kids intuitively KNOW whether the gift you are giving is for them, or for you. The gifts you give to satisfy an ideal have no value to them (Forbes, 2012).
I could not agree more with these sentiments. Furthermore, I always applaud efforts to point out the inherent intuition in children. Receiving can often prompt the feelings and intuitions developed in childhood. Does getting gifts feel disingenuous? Obligatory? Wasteful? Do you feel exposed or that too much attention is being placed on your response to the gift? All of these experiences are very real and likely not the first time you have felt this way.
In terms of giving, the same can be true. Maybe obligatory gift giving also doesn’t feel right to you as the giver. It’s okay to not want to perpetuate these ideals. Instead, I urge you to think about the person you are giving to and think about their values. What can you give them or not give them that honors their morals, worldview, and growth? Listening to someone’s needs and respecting them is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
I hope everyone has a peaceful holiday and I will see you all in the new year.
Be Kind and Trust Yourself
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Read the full Forbes article by Mary Crary here: