Holiday Gift Giving – Getting Behind the True Intention of Why We Give

When it comes to giving gifts, it’s the thought that counts… or does it? We’ve all been on the receiving end, at one time or another, of gifts that have left us scratching our heads wondering what on earth the gift-giver was thinking when they decided to bestow this particular item on us.

For a lot of people, giving gifts, especially during the holidays, is an obligation rather than a sincere act of love, kindness, generosity or gratitude. How else to explain those totally random gifts that have little practical or sentimental value?

Often times we use gift giving as a way to over-compensate for some perceived lack of self-worth or adequacy. When we feel “less than” about ourselves, we tend to spend more on gifts in the hopes of gaining the love and approval we seek from others. How many times have you been shopping at a store during the holidays and found yourself on line behind someone at the register who appears to have gone stark-raving mad? They’ve loaded their carts to the max –as though they were in a shopping spree and their lives depended on grabbing the most items possible in the shortest amount of time. Gift giving when viewed in the context of this prism becomes a futile exercise in self-redemption via crass commercialism –after all, imagine the disappointment of this person’s family and friends if they didn’t show up on the holidays with a boatload of gifts!

Then there are people who feel the need to keep score… are you one of those? You are if you wait to see who gives you a gift first before reciprocating, make decisions about who to gift based on historical performance (i.e. who gave you a gift the previous year), or you aim to maintain parity in your gift giving –meaning you always give gifts of approximately the same or perceived value as the ones you receive.

All this mental score-keeping is time-consuming, exhausting, and distracts us from the true intention of gift-giving –acknowledging those we love and care about. When giving gifts starts to feel like a chore or an obligation, that’s the time to re-evaluate your gift-giving strategy! Why do you give gifts? Is it to fill an ego-based need? Is the real motivation to make yourself feel better or to make someone else happy? What if you let your ego get out of the way and focus on what would make the other person happy based on what they actually need or

A gift is your way of expressing how you feel about another person –your way of showing them gratitude for having them in your life. The best gift you can give is the gift of sharing yourself or your feelings with someone –being present with them in a way that reminds them that they mean something to you. Here’s a quick look at some gift ideas that can support the real intention of giving:

Gifts of Experiences

There’s something deeply satisfying and gratifying about sharing experiences with someone you care about. It builds and strengthens the bond between you. It can be something simple like taking them out for dinner and a movie, going to a concert, play, or sporting event together, or doing something more involved like spending a day hiking or exploring in nature, getting pampered at a Spa, a visit to the local museum, or volunteering for an event. The emphasis should be on togetherness –sharing the experience rather than just handing them a gift certificate or pair of tickets to something.

Gifts from the Heart

Gifts from the heart are the most meaningful and can take on many forms: gifts of time, love or support (baby-sitting, house-sitting, pet-sitting, tech support for the computer-challenged, gardening or decorating advice, cooking lessons, house-cleaning, coffee or a meal together). Think of something your giftee needs, could really use, or you know would make them feel good. Start by asking them ‘What do you need?’ or ‘What can I help you create?’ This way you can help them do or create something that’s important or meaningful to them. You’re building on their idea rather than on an idea of your own which may not be as important to them.

If time is a major challenge, then other heart-centered gifts include contributions to charitable causes that are important to the giftee, or gifts from companies that tithe or support similar causes.

Handmade Gifts

Another great way to show someone you care is by using your talents to make them a gift. Great handmade gifts include food (jellies, jams, infused culinary oils and vinegars, all manner of dessert), bath and body items (soaps, candles, perfumes, lip balms, lotions and creams), clothing (any form of knitwear, silkscreened or hand-dyed clothing), jewelry, accessories, home decor, pet accessories, other craft items (photos, drawings, paintings, scrap books, etc.). If you don’t have the time or skill then consider buying handmade gifts –it’s not as personal as something that’s made by you but it still holds more value than your run-of-the-mill store-bought items.

Here are some resources you can consult for gift ideas:

For gifts to charitable causes, consult the Charity Navigator Holiday Giving Guide to help you evaluate different charities and aid organizations and make the most of your contributions.

For handmade and green gifts that make a difference, shop at the World of Good’s website –a shopping site with a treasure trove of over 20,000 ethically-sourced, fair trade, and eco-friendly gifts and goods from around the world. And don’t forget to consult Etsy –a shopping site of only handmade goods in a variety of product categories.

For gifts to people in need, take a look at Kiva. Championed by former president Bill Clinton, this organization lets you use your money to make micro-loans to entrepreneurs in poor and rural parts of the world with the goal of helping them achieve economic independence and improved quality of life. Another great option in this category is Heifer International.

Copyright 2009 Dropwise Essentials