Tis the season of flirting and mistletoes and competing with your neighbors for the best light display.
Tis the season of commercials filled with promises of happy toys for children, fun gadgets for your man, shiny gifts for your woman, and everything in between.
Tis the season of food temptation and gluttony, when melatonin production starts earlier and we gain poundage so that by the first of the new year, we feel guilty enough to sign up for a gym membership we won’t use.
Tis the season for exchanging gifts with friends and coworkers, or not doing it and then feeling cast out by society when you don’t give what’s “expected.” Shouldn’t there be a manual for this? #etiquettestandards
With the season of buying, wrapping, and giving upon us, we have to ask ourselves questions about what it means to us to give gifts. Why do we do it?
And therein lies important pieces of your Identity. Why you do something can tell you a lot about yourself; especially with gift-giving, it can tell you a lot about how you think of others.
Here are the 5 most-common reasons I’ve found as to why people give gifts and what it means for them and society as a whole:
- To gain acceptance. As much as we don’t like to admit it, a lot of the time, we give a gift because we think we’re supposed to. Oh, Sally is going to get me that because she gets me a gift every year. That means I need to get her something, too.
Do you really need to, though? Did you ever really feel bad when you got someone a gift and they didn’t get you anything in return? Chances are, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. If it did, maybe you need to ask yourself why it bothered you so much. But the picture is: So What? Who really cares if Sally got you something and you can’t afford/can’t think of/don’t feel like searching for something to get her just for the sake of getting her something? If you can’t give something, mindfully and intentionally, in return, why sweat it? Tell her you couldn’t swing it this year.
- To share our love and appreciation for another being. Mary Ann McGrath, the associate dean of the graduate school of business at Loyola, said that gift giving can show us important things about our lives and the people in our lives. In the article “The Psychology of Gift Giving,” Dr. McGrath says, “Who is on your gift list is telling you who is important in your life. It says who is more important and who is less important.”
Another reason we give: to show those people that they are important to us. After years of hearing people complain about Valentine’s Day, a coworker finally piped up to explain why she doesn’t hate the day. “It’s a day to appreciate someone,” she said. “If you don’t do it on that day, when else are you realistically going to do it?” While some people show their loved ones how they love them daily, others need a prompt. Even if you’re not the most gift-loving person out there, the special people in your life might see gifts as the ultimate form of love.
- To participate in a big party. Think about it. Giving gifts, decorating, baking select dishes — it’s almost like a season-wide party. And everybody is invited! The holidays — be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannuka, or the Fourth of July — are a chance for the collective masses to embrace tradition, start new ones, celebrate, laugh, and bond over something that makes us feel not so alone.
There’s a reason that people rush out for Black Friday deals, and it’s not always just because there’s stuff to buy sometimes with good prices. It’s because mom and Jenny go every year and I can’t wait to join. It’s because standing in line for hours is only worth while when you get to joke around with the stranger in front of you. Sometimes, the spirit of giving is reason to celebrate, even if it seems superficial to some. Sharing in the joy of giving can be a form of spreading positive energy.
- Because FOMO. That’s right – the ever popular Fear-of-Missing-Out syndrome. People give gifts because they’re afraid that if they don’t, they’ll be missing something. What’s the point of going to a Yankee Swap party if you don’t have anything to give? What’s the point of the holiday party at work if you don’t bring your famous brownies to share? So we get gifts and buy things in order to participate so that we don’t miss that moment when Miles yanks his shirt off and falls into the lobby’s water fountain. Most of the time, these fun events don’t happen anyway. But we’re not gunna miss it if it does!
You’ve heard it before; don’t live in fear. There’s no reason to live solely by your emotions. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” If you’re afraid of not buying a gift because of what some idiot thinks, maybe that’s the perfect reason not to buy one. Think about it; don’t just impulsively use your Amazon Prime account. Live intentionally.
- To have fun and to show that we’ve been listening. Some people are terrible gift-givers. They usually know it. These are the aunts and uncles that give cash and gift cards. Society has tried to shame these poor souls into anxiety-riddled consumerism, but there is nothing shameful about a purely useful gift.
Then there are some people with a true talent for gift-giving. These people start listening intently to conversations starting in October for things you drop in your sentences. “Oh, I just really wish I had these for my car.” “I’ve really been wanting a trip to this store, but I haven’t gotten there. There’s just no time.” “I spend literally all of my money at restaurants; what’s wrong with me?” “I need new sweaters for winter. I hope I can find some nice ones before it gets too cold.”
Then, these listeners go out and try to find the items that best match the needs/wants they’ve heard – not to people-please – but because it becomes a sort of puzzle. How do you find a gift that really says, “Hey, I appreciate your existence”? You have to listen. The answers end up acting like a jigsaw puzzle. These people have genuine fun gift-giving. It’s not for everyone, but for these types, it can really be a creative outlet.
Whether you buy gifts because you feel pressured or because you actually enjoy it, the point of this blog is not to discourage you from participating in the holidays as you like to. Rather, it’s to encourage a more mindful holiday season with an examination of why you’re spending your hard-earned money. If it’s draining you and your wallet, it’s probably a good time to ask yourself some soul-searching questions.
-Catie Machuzak, Identity Graduate