The Nature of Gift Giving and Receiving
How many times have you asked this question: “What should I get [person] for their birthday?”
How many times has the answer been a slow unsure response, because it’s really hard to shop for certain people?
And what those dreaded huge holidays like Christmas and Hannukah, where you have to figure out in one go what everyone will want? It’s exhausting but worth it to see a person’s face light up when we give them something. Isn’t it?
In the past, when I’ve been asked about what someone might want, I’ve usually responded with, “Why don’t we ask [person]? Seems like the easiest way to know.”
But, I recently attended a lecture by Austin Kleon that made me think twice about this. Kleon talked about giving art as gifts instead of constantly seeking the validation of the market. It made me think about the nature of gifts to begin with.
For instance, should we solicit gift requests? And what is the true nature of a gift? Should we buy things that people want? Or should we buy what we think they need?
It seems inefficient to buy people what we think they need: after all, there’s a good chance that we’ll be wrong. Isn’t that money wasted?
Perhaps. But there’s an alternate point of view: what if the gifting experience is not about the gift itself but about the interaction, and the exchange between two friends or family members? If you think back on the gifts you’ve received, the functional ones may stand out in your mind. But for everything else, it was probably the experience of receiving it. The warmth, the feeling of receiving generosity from someone who genuinely thinks you matter.
That we’ve equated gifts with going to the mall and spending money is our own fault. When did we let someone else define what shopping for gifts meant to us?
So I vow to change the way I give gifts. I vow to learn to new skills so that I can make handmade stuff for people’s birthdays. I vow to value receiving gifts. I promise to revel in the experience of the transaction, rather than the acquisition of a new item.
And for the things that I explicitly want someone else to buy me? That’s assistance, a request, help… but not a true gift.