Gift Giving

Posted in Psychology on December 31, 2023 by foreverliketh.is ‐ 5 min read

Gift Giving
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person showing brown gift box֎ by Kira auf der Heide֎ on Unsplash֎

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This page was last modified: December 31st, 2023

This post is part of IndieWeb Carnival֎. A project helping motivate people to write more on their personal websites. This month’s host is Johanna֎ and their topic was ‘Holiday and December traditions’ [#1֎ & #2]

This post is also part of Agora Road Travelogue - Dec [#1֎ & #2]. A project attempting to encourage individuals to both write and exercise ownership over their content.


Bah! Humbug!

Of all the holiday traditions I’m familiar with, the one I’ve caught myself engaging with the most year over year would have to be gift-giving. While I won’t extrapolate my experience with it to you, traveler, I’ve personally found the whole thing to be… a bit of a process. And I’m not alone: A Lainchan Webring֎ neighbor, Mark (maerk.xyz)֎, recently wrote about their Christmas gifting struggles֎, expressing sentiments I totally relate to.

In my opinion, part of the grinchy֎ frustration that can stem from the practice is that its nature is more complicated than it appears at first glance. But I believe that, with a good mindset, a little preparation and maybe a couple handy strategies, we can keep ourselves from questioning why we even bother in the first place.

Ant, Not Grasshopper

The average American currently spends approximately $648 USD on Christmas gifts֎; a little over 1% of their yearly salary֎. A higher-end alternative is to cap the spending at 1 week’s salary. Play with that dial as you see fit, but I would try to stay in that range. Ideal gift-giving, imo, embodies the ‘Goldilocks principle֎’, and budget is the first place it should be applied. Whatever the amount, set it in stone֎ for the year and don’t look back.

Alright, Santa Claus, now it’s time to make your list. Here’s the rough hierarchy: Family –> Friends –> Coworkers. Seems too obvious? You’d be surprised:

Additionally, the more distant the person, the easier it is to get them a “good” gift. Naturally, their absence of expectation produces a “low effort, high reward” effect; be wary of that trap. I’m not gonna throw out percentages, but if the bulk of your pot isn’t going to those that love you, there’s probably something worth reevaluating.

Modern Magi

Now for the REAL challenge: the gifts themselves. Balance can be key.

  • Not too cheap, but also not too expensive.
  • Not too giver-centered, but also not too recipient-centered. It should have a piece of you, a personal touch, but just a bit.
  • Not too plain / boring, but also not 100% reaction bait. Try to spice it up if it’s something bland, and don’t forget to consider the practicality (and size) if it’s something flashy.

Additional tips include:

  • SOME element of surprise; even if it’s just the timing. #1֎
  • Remember you can gift experiences (something to do), not just stuff. #2֎
  • Taking notes (being attentive) all year round, can save you hunting time.

Need inspiration? I recommend:

Forest for the Trees

A gift or a present is an item given to someone without the expectation of payment or anything in return.֎

No matter the effort, there is NO guarantee that a present will be appreciated. The attempt of sincere giving alone should serve as both sufficient motivation to try, and its own reward. Sound a tad stoic֎? Perhaps. But common alternative attitudes can prove problematic:

These types of logical / cynical lenses that we can look at the tradition through, I think they do more harm than good. Oft-repeated advice in these circles include:

  • Just give money.
  • Ask the recipient what they want.
  • Gift only utilitarian֎ items.
  • Forgo gift-giving entirely.

It’s like there’s an obsession with optimization, or a fatalist pessimism, or a fear of failure, or some notion of intellectual superiority. Citing research or studies, and declaring the findings as a sort-of gospel is par for the course. Fren, they have not “solved” gift-giving; they’ve developed a formula for mediocrity! And worse, it’s possibly a poison to the spirit of the act; a dehumanizing, soul-eating scrooge֎-toxin!

Is the tradition such a burden? A custom out of time? A materialistic inconvenience? I don’t know, visitor. But I’ll be here, trying to get better at it anyways. If you have any, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes for good gift-giving.

Happy New Year! 🎆


Contributors: Charles Dickens֎ –> A Christmas Carol֎ –> Ebenezer Scrooge֎ | Serial Experiments Lain֎ –> Lainchan֎ –> Yukinu֎ –> sizeof.cat֎ | Dr. Seuss֎ –> How the Grinch Stole Christmas!֎ | Exploding Topics֎ –> Josh Howarth֎ | Yahoo!֎ –> Afifa Mushtaque | Goldilocks and the Three Bears֎ | Psychology Today֎ –> Alex Lickerman֎ | Dan Munro֎ | Van Neistat֎ | Lisa Williams֎ | Zeno of Citium֎ | The Niner Times֎ –> Jessica Danesi | The Atlantic֎ –> Anna Goldfarb֎ | PBS֎ –> Paul Solman֎ –> Joel Waldfogel֎


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