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A conscious gift-giving guide

During the month of December, we tend to get bombarded with the topic of gift-giving – all media, marketing campaigns, and commercials chanting in unison: ‘GIVE, GIVE, GIVE!’. There is usually nothing wrong with that – both giving and receiving gifts is a pleasant experience, especially when that gift was thoughtfully chosen. On the other hand, the pre-Christmas rush is a true overconsumption festival with dire effects for the environment. This is why today we invite you to learn a little bit more about conscious and thoughtful giving.

A not so brief history of giving gifts

Looking for the origins of gift-giving takes us all the way back to the prehistoric times – our Stone Age ancestors used this practice to express positive sentiments but also highlight their dominance and the ability to ensure their family’s survival. In Ancient Rome, talismans were a common gift to attract happiness, sometimes to emphasize someone’s fidelity and loyalty. Gift-giving as we know it today became commonplace during the 19th century as the technological advances and industrial growth made more and more objects available to more and more people.

Why do we give presents?

The history of gift-giving is, therefore, old as the world itself – but why do we do it? What motivates someone to spend time and energy to find the perfect gift, often at a hefty price? John F. Sherry distinguished two types of motives surrounding the practice:

  • altruistic – when the goal is to make someone as happy as possible,
  • agonistic – when the goal is the giver’s satisfaction.

Interestingly, both these motivations can coexist and be equally as important. According to B. Schwartz, a gift can be seen as a foreshadowing of future expectations towards the gifted, for example, when parents give their child a clearly culturally gendered toy (a doll for a girl, a car for a boy) they can demand them to adhere to certain gendered behavior models, or when a friend gives deeply personal or intimate gifts, they might be hinting at their desire to further explore the relationship, etc.

Even when a gift has no implied meaning or subconscious expectation attached to it, it can bring the giver some real benefits. Psychologically, gift-giving can make us feel better, build a more positive self-image, and increase self-respect. Gifting can also be a fantastic way of expressing yourself – besides its economic, social, or emotional value, a gift can be a chance at self-expression as it is, at least in part, influenced by the giver’s unique point of view. In order to bring mutual satisfaction, however, the gift has to be well thought-out.

Photo by NORTHFOLK on Unsplash

Thought-through, fitting, and necessary

We can spend hours trying to pick the perfect gift and still get it wrong sometimes. In such cases, some recipients regift their unwanted presents or sell them altogether – and this is the best solution. Unfortunately, the unwanted gifts often end up in the garbage, sometimes straight away, sometimes having spent a significant amount of time at the bottom of your closet. There is, however, a simple way to avoid this!

The most radical solution is to stop buying them. Especially when we think about the environmental impact of overconsumption and the imminent climate catastrophe. But, looking at the long-established tradition of gift-giving and the benefits of participating in the practice (not just material!), eliminating it seems impossible and is unnecessary. Instead, it is better to encourage conscious purchases and thought-through gifts that satisfy both parties, elicit the desired emotional response and don’t produce an overwhelming amount of waste.

The first step is recognizing the gift recipient’s needs – in other words, you need to find out what it is they need most at the moment. It doesn’t seem that difficult, especially when it’s someone you know well; a family member or friend you talk to daily. You can inquire outright or make it a surprise by playing detective and asking mutual friends to better know your giftee’s interests and dreams. This way not only do you gain inspiration for the perfect gift, you also strengthen your relationship.

Photo by  Leone Venter on Unsplash

Remember that in order to avoid any mishaps, you shouldn’t focus too much on the aforementioned self-expression factor or on proving your worth – the gift must first and foremost bring your recipient joy.

Quality is another important aspect of conscious giving. Even though Santa’s sack looks best filled to the brim with presents, its contents often quickly end up in the landfill. Mindful gifting follows the ‘less is more’ principle so instead of getting a few meaningless gifts, pick one good quality item that will not only make your recipient happy but also last them for years to come.

And what if, despite your best deductive efforts, you’re still unsure what to get? Fear not for there’s always the humble, foolproof gift card to fall back on. Sometimes seen as a faux pas or the easy way out, a gift card can turn out to be the perfect gift – who wouldn’t want the freedom to choose?