Have you ever thought about the tradition of gift giving? Have you ever questioned the legitimacy of this tradition? A tradition that places extreme pressure on us to buy gifts every year for many so-called celebrations whether it is truly in our hearts to do so or not.
Don’t get me wrong. I love giving a gift to someone I care about when I know that it’s something they truly want and I am not doing it in response to some kind of pressure. For me, a true gift is one that is given when there are no social or recipient pressures connected to it.
Let’s consider the list of obligations we have for gift giving each year. I am going to limit the list to those events that happen every year and omit those that only occur occasionally like graduations, weddings, and baby showers.
- Anniversaries (all, particularly couples.)
- Valentine’s Day
- Mother’s Day
- Father’s Day
- Administrative Professionals’ Day (formerly known as Secretary’s Day)
- Christmas and similar religious holidays (which I know exist but I am not familiar enough with to list them by name.)
How did we become such slaves to gift giving?
Product developers and merchants created the elaborate nature of many celebrations that involve gift giving. In some cases, they actually created the gift giving aspect of the celebration and/or the gift itself. In other words, they have commercialized these events.
Manufacturers and retailers spend billions promoting the need to give, receive, or exchange gifts through a myriad of marketing activities. We have been brainwashed through their emotional advertising messages that we deserve to receive or need to provide gifts for particular events throughout the year.
Think about the images of Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other celebrations that you have in your head. If you think hard enough you’ll probably find that many of them are derived from commercials you’ve seen.
You might say, “I am not being brainwashed by commercials. I don’t pay much attention to them.” You don’t have to pay close attention to a commercial in order for it to have an impact on you. Advertising’s effect is accumulative. It is created over many years of passive exposure.
Manufacturer and retailer marketing of celebrations that involve gift giving and special meals has been so prevalent for so many years that they have greatly influenced the way these events are celebrated. They have done such a good job that their advertising messages have become commonly held beliefs on what we are supposed to do during these celebrations. When this happens, they become traditions.
I propose that we refused to be manipulated by product manufacturers and retailers and make our own decisions about gift giving. And do it regardless of the social pressures that we will almost certainly feel from family and friends.
Can you imagine the weight that would be lifted and the amount of wasted money that would be saved if you established new traditions regarding gift giving?
What are the true benefits of gift giving?
What benefits do we gain in giving or receiving a gift? Unfortunately, I would say that the relief of meeting the social obligation to give a gift is often greater than the satisfaction of giving it. And receivers often gain more gratification from the gift than the act of giving by the giver. This happens because we’ve been taught through advertising to measure how much we are appreciated based on the perceived value of the gift rather than the act of giving.
Children, of course, respond differently due to their immaturity and lack of experience. Children learn a lot about gift “receiving” through advertising. But they are taught about gift “giving” through their parents.
Children don’t need a room full of gifts to be happy and succeed in life. What they do need is their parents’ time, attention, guidance, praise, and love. Gifts do little or nothing to satisfy these essential needs.
Adults, who have had more time to be brainwashed by advertising, need to break free of their conditioned ways of thinking and reacquaint themselves with what is truly important.
What are the alternatives?
Below are some alternatives for each celebration I listed earlier.
You may already be doing some of them. If so, you’re on the path to gift giving enlightenment!
It may be difficult for some people to get their heads around these radically different gift giving rules. I encourage these people to take a hard look at where they picked up their gift giving beliefs. And then decide whether those beliefs are truly relevant and useful today.
Here they are.
Christmas & Similar Religious Holidays
- Stop all adult gift exchanges.
- Christmas has become so incredibly commercialized that I propose that gifts be given only to children up to age 5-12. Mass gift exchange between adults is pointless.
- Limit adult gift exchanges to couples only.
- Draw names so that each adult gets only one gift from one person.
- Set a gift cost limit of $1-$20.
- Agree that all gifts are to be handmade or commitments of service.
- End gift giving for children at age 12-18.
- Limit gift giving for children to one item from their parents only.
- Set a gift spending limit of $5-$100 per child.
- Forgo a gift exchange in favor of putting gift money into a pool to help a less fortunate person, family, or group.
- Stop gift giving after birth and make ceremonious contributions to a college or new online business savings account annually instead.
- End gift giving after age 5-18.
- Set a gift cost limit of $1-$20.
- Limit gifts to one item from parents only.
- Limit gift giving after age 21 to years ending in zero e.g. 30, 40, 50, and so on.
Anniversaries (couples) & Valentine’s Day
- Stop gift exchanges and make ceremonious contributions to a vacation, education, new business, or retirement savings account annually instead.
- Agree to exchange gifts on significant anniversaries only e.g. 5, 10, 25, & 50.
- Set a gift cost limit of $1-$20.
- Stop gift exchanges and start an enriching activity together instead.
- Get health club memberships.
- Build a home gym.
- Sign up for tennis lessons.
- Start an online business together.
- Join a Toastmasters group.
- Register for a college course or self-improvement program.
- Complete “The Couple’s Review” partner-relationship appraisal to refine your relationship.
- Plant a symbolic tree. (To be representative of the growth of your love and/or relationship.)
Mother’s, Father’s, & Administrative Professionals’ Day
- Stop gift giving and restaurant outings in favor of a simple gesture instead.I propose this because retailers and restaurants have commercialized these events to the point of being absurd. Why try forcing yourselves to enjoy a pricey “special” meal at a ridiculously overcrowded restaurant on these dates? If you’re really inclined to do so, take them out for a meal on the day of your choosing and under your terms and not the restaurant’s.
- Send a card, or better yet a personal note, and follow up with a phone call. It is the nice things you do between these annual so-called celebrations that matter most.
- Give a handmade gift or a written commitment of service.
- Trade jobs on Administrative Professionals’ Day for 1-8 hours.
Can you imagine how your life would be if you were free of the contrived gift giving obligations that have been created by advertisers and the media? Imagine how much stress would be removed from your life. Imagine how much more energy you’d have for more meaningful endeavors. Like giving the gifts of your time and help to those you love.