Thoughtful Gift-giving

Yesterday I posted about balancing wants and needs. I had so many interesting responses that I would like to explore this topic a bit further…

I am sure most of you are still going about your last-minute gift shopping. I know very few people who plan far ahead and have nothing left to buy after Thanksgiving. Everyone wants to give gifts to people they care about. It is a way of expressing their love and showing that they took the time to think about what the recipient would really like. And this again comes back to the black and white of needs and wants, but throws in the gray of what would make someone happy.

One reader said her son had come to appreciate the “care” package she sent him every year, even though it included necessities as well as some special items. I think it is wonderful that he now sees this as an expression of her love for him (priceless) and does not measure the value of the gift itself. Does this mean we should not give extravagant gifts? Another reader pointed out that Jesus accepted oil as a token of devotion. If offering this gift felt right, it should be accepted even if it is expensive.

The purpose of a gift is to make the recipient happy, and by extension, also bring happiness to the giver. We all love to see the expressions of excitement, surprise and jubilation when we bestow a gift on someone and the feeling of pleasure that we get from their reaction is rewarding. By contrast, when we see the disappointment or fake excitement (which we can all see through), we feel like we have failed.

I think we have set ourselves up for this by asking children of a very young age to tell “Santa” what they want. Many parents also use the threat of “coal” for bad behavior, which implies that children deserve the gifts simply because they were good. Instead of teaching children to accept what they get gratefully and express their appreciation to the giver, we knock ourselves out trying to secretly buy the wished for items (and if you heard of the Black Friday atrocities, we even knock out others), and by the time the kids realize who had given the presents all along, they are so used to crediting Santa that they often forget to thank us. So over time, the joy of gift-giving has turned more into a chore. If we expect unrewarding reactions, we put less time into our efforts. Sadly, it should not be this way.

Whether it costs $10 or$100, a gift is an expression of your love and should reflect that, loud and clear. As we make our gift choices for people, it is also important to maintain our values. If we are against playing with toy guns, for example, we would not purchase one no matter how high on the wish list it ranks. But then we are faced with a dilemma of not getting the reaction we would like from the recipient, or regretting our breach of values later.

So we keep searching for the perfect gift idea. Something that balances our values with an item or service that will have meaning and bring pleasure, whether it is a need the recipient doesn’t yet recognize, or a luxury that falls within these guidelines. Whatever we do, it is important to give from the heart and show that we care. That is the greatest gift of all.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Looking Out The Window
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 10:32:23

    It is that moment of finding that perfect gift. Knowing that will bring a smile to their face and warm their heart that you know that you have done right. So often we think about how much should we spend on Aunt Susie and they go out and look for a gift that costs exactly $35.

    Thanks for our reflection on this during this holiday season of so much giving.

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  2. Susan
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 17:07:50

    @Looking Out The Window – I agree, and yet I still find myself looking at the money and feeling guilty. I have a married niece with a toddler. They make very little money and have very little space in their apartment. For the second year in a row, I am giving them a very expensive (for our family) zoo/aquarium membership – they live within walking distance of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and now they can get out of the house and enjoy this resource that they couldn’t afford to visit before. I get to support a great, local cultural resource by giving this gift. Everyone wins.

    But then I feel guilty because I am probably going to spend much less on her sister and cousins – maybe a tackle box and Dick’s gift certificate for the niece & her husband who like to fish. A good set of colored pencils for the niece who is an art student. Good and fitting gifts for them, but, still, much less expensive than the gift for the first niece. Do you think gift recipients take note (and care) of the price differences between gifts once they become adults?

    Also, there are some folks for whom it is easy for me to find “the perfect gift” every year, and other I struggle with almost every year. This makes me feel bad too – do I really not know or like the people that I have trouble finding gifts for as much as I do the ones that are easy to shop for? And then I find I have picked up two or three great things for one person and nothing for another.

    But despite it all, I still really enjoy shopping for family, especially for those people that I am not going to be able to see over the holidays. I just wish I was more organized and started sooner!

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  3. Susan
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 10:06:49

    This came over my Facebook page today, and I thought of this column:

    http://bustedhalo.com/features/what-works-56-conscious-gift-shopping

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  4. Carol
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 11:31:28

    We now give to family members only (did I say this before?), but I try to give small gifts to friends during the year, just because. I do try to keep the total cost of gifts near the same amount – but I honestly don’t think my loved ones pay attention to that because I try very hard to get things I know they’d like and do not buy things just to be giving a gift.

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