Yes you read my title correctly, gift giving is fundamentally broken. There will be some exceptions, but for the most part the only time a person receives a gift is when they expect to receive a gift, i.e. birthday, Christmas, or hallmark holiday. I’m not saying that we need to get rid of gifts. I’m saying that we need to get rid of expected gifts. No one should for any reason expect a gift. Where’s the fun and joy in it, except maybe if you are five. Let’s consider the last time you bought Susie something because you had to, and you got her the dog thingy, and she opened it. What was her face? “Oh Yes!” or “Oh…. thanks, I think…?” And you felt how, when you saw that is wasn’t something she’d really like? So far gift giving seems to suck really badly. You have the same or better odds playing red\black on the roulette table, and at least that has a favorable return if you win.
Sure it’s fun to buy people gifts, except that it’s not when they are expecting a gift from you. When you know they are expecting something, there is this pressure that creates stress, “Oh I have to find a great gift they’ll really like and I only have 24 hours”, since let’s face it we hate buying people expected gifts so we put it off until the last possible second. Then we stressfully and quickly go through the isle looking for something that is just good enough, “Oh Susie likes dogs and this dog thingy is cute so I’ll get that.” What is the batting percentage on this, maybe 50%. So we are stuck buying something with a 50% likelihood they’ll like it because we have to, even though we don’t really want to. I know not in all cases, but think about buying a gift for your one of your in-laws or co-worker cause you got shamed into a secret santa ordeal, now I’ve just lowered the odds. This is even worse for kids who get unhappy because they didn’t get the gift they wanted most, or maybe it’s fair to say that everyone gets like this. Of course those with kids understand the tantrums and\or tears that will be had to be dealt with.
For adults, even teens, receiving a gift can be difficult as well. Think about the last time Grandma gave you a gift. Was it that sweater you have been dreaming of? Well it was a sweater, or dress shirt, but I’m going to guess you didn’t really want it. But then you have to show the fake smile of happiness, “Oh, thanks Grandma for the shirt.” Or maybe you get money from her, in a card that they put a lot of thought into to pick out just for you, “Oh, thanks Grandma for the card.”
Then there is the whole Christmas debacle of shopping through crowds and trying to find deals because you have to save money to buy everyone a gift and not everyone has money like Bill Gates. Holiday gift giving adds stress and undue financial burden into the mix. So we end up stressing about buying gifts with money we barely have or don’t have, then give someone something that with all honesty, probably gets put in the garage or attic. Maybe it’s clothing they’ll wear, or not and they donate it to Goodwill. Or they return it and get something they “want” or need. So we get pushed around in the store and buy something only to have a less than 50% chance they’ll like it and\or use it. So during Christmas everyone expects to receive gifts from family, and I would venture to guess that over 50% of the time they didn’t really want or need at least 50% of the gifts they received. So we are buying people stuff they don’t want and don’t really like because it’s a day where we are supposed to buy a gift.
My brother and sister-in-law for Christmas take blankets, sweaters and socks to homeless people. The day that most homeless people feel absolutely forgotten about, they actually receive a gift they want and need. And 95% of them are beyond grateful and joyful for the two gifts they just received. Yes two. One was the sweater, but more importantly, two was the fact that someone brought them something on a day they didn’t expect to get anything, and that is the most important part about giving and receiving gifts.
Here’s the joy of gift giving! Remember back to that one time when you bought someone something out of the blue, no special day, just you saw something that Susie would love and bought it for her and gave it to her for no reason, other than you care for Susie and really wanted her to have this thing. I’ll will to guess that Susie loved it and was completely shocked, and that little thing means more to her than the dog thingy you got her for her birthday. The joy in gift giving, and receiving, comes from the completely unexpected.
Maybe Christmas and birthday’s need to go the way of Thanksgiving, more about spending time with one another, having fun and eating. Rather than some stress filled, jacked up day that we are all glad when it is over and done. I know not everyone has a bad time, but if you read any of the holiday health articles, they’re all about managing stress and depression during the holidays. It is bad enough we stress about spending time with family, but to add in additional stress of gifts, expectations and finances is unneeded. So maybe we should start to consider a change to gift giving. Let’s move away from expected gifts and toward unexpected gifts. Plus if you need a holiday, be it hallmark or not, to remind you to give someone something as a gesture that you care about them, then you are doing it wrong. You shouldn’t need a “day” to tell someone you love them with flowers, a toy, jewelry, or anything else. If you care for someone, gift giving should come naturally, not be forced.