Gift Givers and Stress

giversHoliday gift giving—it makes us feel anxious and under pressure.[1] However, isn’t it supposed to make us happy—giving a special something to a special someone? Of course, psychologically, it is more complicated than that.1

First, there is the happiness component of the holidays: What makes us happier—giving or receiving?1 The short answer: neither.1 Psychologists Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon analyzed holiday experiences that make people feel happy, and broke it down into seven: time with family, religious activities, maintaining traditions, spending money on gifts, receiving gifts, helping others, and sensual enjoyment of the holiday with food and drink.1 Family time and religious activity increased people’s sense of well-being, while giving and receiving gifts did not.1

According to Kasser and Sheldon, “Despite the fact that people spend relatively large portions of their income on gifts, as well as time shopping for and wrapping them, such behavior apparently contributes little to holiday joy.”1

Second, those nicely wrapped gifts aren’t just presents, but symbolic markers of relationships and self.1 We all remember the gifts we’ve been given—the good, the bad, and the ugly—as we understand them as revealing the nature of the connections we have to others.1

According to Barry Schwartz, “Gifts are one of the ways in which the pictures others have of us are transmitted.”1

In fact, gifts do not only reveal the image the giver has of you, but it exposes the character and the thinking of the giver as well.1 People dread the bad gifts as much as they dread giving them.1 When opened, people feel the bad gift was thoughtless at best, creating disappointing and hurtful feelings.1 In dysfunctional families, gift-giving, or gift-withholding, can become a power play.1

To ease the stress of the holidays a bit, here is an explanation of five different types of gift-givers:

  1. The Genuine Giver.1 These are the people who you are lucky to have in your life. They put great thought into you and what would bring you happiness.1 Unfortunately, these givers are often the exception and not the rule.1 A genuine gift giver often views Christmas as their favorite time of year.1
  2. The Status Hound.1 These people give costly gifts to show-off their money and power.1 The gift usually has nothing to do with the recipient, but everything to do with the giver.1
  3. The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.1 This type of giver likes to be thought of as a wonderful gift-giver with perfectly wrapped gifts; however, his or her spirit is not very genuine.1 In the end, Christmas is about themselves.1 They are most likely to send a check or re-gift items and prefers to be even-steven in terms of money spent, so beware of possible pouting if he or she is disappointed.1 They also love to play favorites.1
  4. The Power Player.1 The worst kind of gift-giver, these people know how to manipulate the symbolic nature of the gift and often hurt others the most.1 They understand how gifts can cause pain and, whether consciously or unconsciously, do just that.1
  5. The Complainer.1 With a gift comes the endless travails and inconveniences he or she was exposed to this holiday season, especially when purchasing your gift.1

There will always be an array of gift-givers in your life during the holidays; however, if you understand the reasons behind their style of giving, it is easier to lighten up and take it for what it is.1 Remember, family, traditions, and helping others bring us the most joy during the holiday season—not the gifts. Everyone is stressed out and show it differently. Smile, be grateful, and move on. Happy holidays!

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