We've all been there before. It's the holiday season, and we feel pressured to buy gifts for all our loved ones. But what is the true purpose of gift-giving? And how can we avoid feeling obligated to get something for someone just for the sake of getting them something? Let's explore.
Why We Give Gifts
The tradition of giving gifts dates back thousands of years. In many ancient cultures, gift-giving was a way to show respect, appreciation, and honor. It was also seen as a way to solidify relationships and build bridges between people. In some cultures, gifts were even given as a form of payment or compensation.
In modern times, gift-giving has largely lost its original purpose. Rather than being given as a sign of respect or appreciation, gifts are often seen as an obligation. We feel pressure to buy something for everyone on our list, regardless of whether we can afford it or whether the recipient even needs it. As a result, gift-giving has become more of a financial burden and social pressure than a joyous tradition.
How to Avoid the Pressure of Gift-Giving
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of gift-giving, there are several things you can do to ease the burden. First, take a step back and consider why you are considering getting someone a gift to begin with. Sometimes, we may be going through the motions and not really thinking about what the other person wants or needs. Other times, we may try to fill a need that we believe the other person has—or relieve ourselves of our potential guilt by not getting them anything.
If guilt or worry is present when thinking of getting someone a gift, I personally recommend NOT getting them anything. Here’s why:
Intention is everything: If we aren’t in it for the right reasons, it doesn’t mean as much, and the other person will likely feel your sense of obligation or even resentment for having spent your money.
It will likely be shoved in a closet, regifted, thrown away, or donated. When we get people things for the sake of getting them something, we often resort to front-of-store gift bundles or miscellaneous items that serve one sole purpose—to say you got them SOMETHING. Sometimes something isn’t better than nothing.
Reset your standards: Other people likely feel the same unpleasantness around gift-giving as you do. Having a conversation about not getting each other gifts not only alleviates the burden you feel but the feelings and expectations of those around you. As adults, we can (for the most part) provide for ourselves. What sense does it make to ask another adult to buy you something you can purchase for yourself to do the same for them?
If it doesn’t feel good, why do it? Giving shouldn’t be painful. Holidays shouldn’t be stressful. If they are, why are we so eager to repeat this vicious cycle every year? It’s not something we are forced into. It’s a norm but not a requirement. If people get upset with you for not participating, that is on them, not you.
If you enjoy giving gifts but find that the stress comes from not being able to afford things for others, this is a much different situation because now we are talking budget. You must ask yourself, “how much can I afford to spend on gifts this year?” Be realistic about what you can actually afford rather than striving to meet an unrealistic ideal. Second, make a list of people who you genuinely want to give gifts. This doesn't necessarily mean family members or close friends—it could also include co-workers, neighbors, or acquaintances. Once you have your list, stick to it! Don't add any additional names just because you feel like you "should."
Remember, gifts don’t have to be expensive, bought at a store, new, or material, so get creative with your gift-giving! If you're worried about sticking to your budget, try making homemade gifts or giving experiences rather than material items.
The true purpose of gift-giving is to show respect and applause in honor—not to fulfill an obligation or meet an unrealistic ideal. When approached from this perspective, gift-giving can be a joyful and satisfying experience for both giver and receiver alike!