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Understanding gifting during the season of giving

As the December holiday trees and decorations glisten, catalogues pile up in our mailboxes, texts of sales clog our message boxes – we start to think about who we are going to buy for, who we need to buy for, what to buy, and how much we’ll spend on each. Rooted in our life’s experiences and impacted by our feelings, perceptions and behaviors, the emotions we attach to gift giving and receiving can be complex and highly charged.

So why is gift giving so important to us? Gift giving is an ancient practice to create a connection between people, foster relationships and many times, express appreciation and for the giver, to reaffirm his or her value to the receiver. It’s about the relationship, the social bonding for both the giver and the receiver through the experience shared of making someone happy. We learn as kids that gift giving is a tangible way to show our love, appreciation, concern for another person – somehow at some point saying it doesn’t feel like enough and the opportunity to show it through gift giving becomes our practice, and our pressure.

We learn that gift giving is an opportunity to make our friends and family members feel closer. But with opportunity to succeed also brings the risk for disappointment. Gift giving is important to us. We want to do the best we can to ensure the gifts we give express our thoughts and feelings and that they aren’t tomorrow’s closet stuffer or water cooler tale of woe.

Succeeding at gift giving can feel like a challenge. Ideally, we want our gifts to reflect the receiver and the giver. Think about both what message you want to give as well as what will the receiver like. Keep current circumstances in mind when you think about the receiver and what matters to him or her. Our lives change all the time, we age, we transition, we stabilize – what’s new in that person’s life or maybe what needs a change? How do you discover what the receiver would like? Ask. Maybe not directly since research shows that people do not feel connected to the giver when they choose their own gift. Do some detective work by asking about best and worst gifts, hobbies, upcoming plans, or needs.

If what to give still has you stumped, in a study that asked participants about what’s more important that a gift reflects you or the giver? More participants stated that they preferred giving and receiving a gift that reflects the recipient—but they also reported that giving a gift that reflects the giver’s “true self” made givers and receivers feel closer to each other. Bottom line – let go of the pressure — you can’t lose. The act of being thought about for many is most important.

Another tip to keep in mind for those hard to buy for people in your life, consider a gift that involves spending time together. Experiments published in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and Psychology Today showed that gifts that involve sharing an experience, produce significantly greater improvements in relationship strength than material gifts. Rather than a gift card for the movies or dinner, give an invitation for a night or afternoon out that includes you as the host.

When you give a gift to someone, you are connecting with that individual not just through the actual gift but you are also making it known that you thought of him or her, demonstrating your time and effort into making him or her happy and creating a memory for you, the receiver and anyone else involved — which is a far more complex and powerful event than simply wrapping up a sweater.

While you are looking forward to the smiles and hugs when those packages are unwrapped, we also need to be understanding of persons that are uncomfortable receiving gifts. In any interaction, it is always important to keep in mind that there are a whole set of possible reactions to a similar event that are neither right nor wrong, that you cannot always predict. We are all influenced by our past experiences; 10 people can have 10 different and valid responses to the same situation – what brings you happiness could bring someone else fear. Neither is right or wrong. Gift receiving is an interaction between people.

Some people can have a hard time accepting gifts for a host of reasons — fears of intimacy, feeling unworthy, fearing an unknown meaning or manipulation – are just a few. Understanding persons not wanting to accept your intended expression of caring through a gift can be difficult. Communicating, through talking or in writing, in any difficult situation is always the first step to gaining understanding and finding the path to a mutually satisfying solution and happiness.

Wishing you a happy holiday season and new year made better than the last with the lessons we take with us. If you need to talk to someone about your mental health, substance dependency, or anything else that might be troubling you, help is only a phone call away. Contact Hegira Health at 734-458-4601.

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About the author, Carol Zuniga, MS, LLP, CEO of Hegira Health, Inc. is a licensed psychologist with more than 30 years’ experience in the healthcare industry. Visit

As seen in the News-Herald. Click here to read.


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