Why do we give?

Coming up on our two year anniversary of the gift shop, we have been reflecting on what gift-giving really means.  During our current time, gifts are used to celebrate special occasions, like birthdays and holidays, or are also used as displays of emotion, like affection, grief, appreciation or gratitude.  This got us thinking - how long has this social norm been in place?

The history of gift-giving has primal origins that even pre-date humanity.  As Kat Whittingham writes, chimpanzees have been known to give food to females in exchange for potential mating or receiving favors from others.  If our evolutionary predecessors did this, it’s no surprise that we do it, too.  It’s inherently in our DNA!  Prehistoric humans followed suit, as cavemen would frequently offer food and other items as examples of how they could provide for their family.  Gifts were also given as signs of accomplishment, celebrating feats of strength or dominance.

In more civilized times, gifts were used to honor incoming leaders and royalty.  This was true for ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.  Tributes were common paid to leaders of empires in order to stay in the good graces of the ruler, sometimes out of necessity for survival.  Fast-forwarding several centuries to the 1800’s, where the Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France, symbolizing America’s message of liberty to the world.

There are many psychological and biological benefits to gift-giving. The adage, “it is better to give than receive,” was likely rooted in the ideas that giving makes the giver happy and also improves their state of mind.  This is in part because gift-giving allows people to connect.  Those that give gifts are able to express their feelings and emotions, either through the specific item or action given as a gift, or the overall gesture of giving.  The receiver of the gift will hopefully be able to understand the intentions of the giver, and thus the connection is made.  Connections give people a sense of purpose and satisfaction, which can help improve moods for both parties involved. 

If giving gifts has so many benefits, then why is placing an importance on receiving gifts so misunderstood? Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, recently featured on the Tamara Hall show, lists gifts as one of the five major ways that people express or understand love.  Those who prefer to receive gifts as an expression of love are constantly incorrectly labeled as materialistic, but this is usually not the case.  Most people with this love language value the expression behind the gift, focusing on WHY the gift was given in the first place.  A gift can serve as a physical reminder of the love and affection being shown by their partner, especially if the gift shows that the individual has been listening.  (Fun fact – one of Shelley’s love languages is Receiving Gifts!)

In conclusion, we give gifts for numerous reasons.  They are all beautiful and equally valid.  Whatever your reason for gift-giving, we appreciate your support and are happy to help with your gifting needs!



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