To Gift or Not to Gift: The Tradition and Motives Behind Gift Giving

CBT Baltimore · December 11, 2019

This is the time of the year when we have to ask ourselves a critical question—to gift or not to gift? From the motives behind gift giving to the pressures that can lead us to overspend to impress, there are many complex forces that govern whether or not we buy a gift for someone in our lives. What factors influence gift givers, and what are your motives behind gift giving?

The Tradition of Gift Giving

We are in the middle of the season of giving and the season of receiving. Whether it is the requests for donations filling out your mailbox or the lists that your children give you to stuff their stockings, sometimes it feels like all you do is give gifts! Before you write that check or buy that gift basket, take a moment to consider the motives behind gift giving.

Giving Benefits the Giver

One 2008 study from Harvard Business School found that people are happier when they spend money on others than when they spend it on themselves. One component of the study was surveying over 600 people on their salary, their expenditure on gifts and the amount that they donated to charities, along with their happiness. That survey found that people who spent more on others and charities were happier than those who spent more on themselves.

Are You an Over-Giver?

While giving can be great for the giver, are you giving a gift for the wrong reason? Do you feel pressured to over-spend because your boss might give you a raise in the new year or a friend always over-spends on you? Giving for the wrong reasons can be harmful, and it can affect your relationship with the recipient and your self-esteem.

When you give generously, you are giving from a warm and happy place where you have met your needs and can give back to others. Over-giving can come from a place of pressure or a place of wanting to receive. Some people give not from the happiness of their hearts, but instead to feel good about themselves, because they have ulterior motives or because they feel obligated to. Over-giving can make you feel exhausted or burdened because you are only giving and not receiving. What are the signs you might have bad motives behind gift giving?

  • You feel guilty when you receive a gift.
  • You feel obligated to apologize if you can’t give “enough” to the other person.
  • You are uncomfortable at receiving presents or requesting a specific gift.
  • You give for love or admiration.
  • You overspend on your gifts to impress the other person.

Picking apart your motivations can allow you to ensure that you are giving out of your heart and open to receiving.

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