What is your idea about a gift?
When is the best time to give a gift?
When you choose a gift, do you choose something you like, or something you think the recipient will like?
Who do you think is happier with the gift? the gift-giver or the recipient?
In this post, I will share my thoughts about a good gift, and a sample of such a gift! :)
When I was younger, I had a few thoughts about gift-giving, I carried many of them till now, but I loosened up on some. Here are some of these ideas:
- The best time for giving a gift is when it is least expected: this means that giving a gift on occasions such as birthdays, mothers days, anniversaries …etc is lame.
- The best gift is a gift that carries an idea, a thought, or the giver’s hand work into it: this means that expensive fancy gifts are lame.
- Choosing a gift that a giver doesn’t like, just because the giver thinks that the recipient would like it, is not the best idea. I do not remember I ever gave a friend a gift I didn’t like.
- I also believed, that the gift-giver seizes the larger portion of the happiness associated with gift-giving (if any).
- I still believe that the best time for giving a gift is when it is least expected! Com’n, if it’s your friend’s birthday, and they expect a gift from you, a better surprise would be by not giving them anything : p. I still think it is kinda lame to give a gift on usual occasions (e.g. birthdays), but I do it anyways (due to social obligations, this will come up later in this post).
- I still believe that the most memorable gifts are those carrying an idea. But, coming up with such gifts, takes time. I try my best to do it, but sometimes I just let it go. And I do not mind “receiving” fancy expensive gifts :P (well, not always, I will talk about the impact of this later)
- I’m a bit (just a bit) comfier giving something I do not like
- I strongly believe that the gift-giver gets the larger share of the happiness associated with the gift-giving process (if any of course! You can sure recall times when giving/receiving a gift was associated with awkwardness/frustration/tension)
A few years ago, I was thinking of this gift giving process, its impact on both the giver and the recipient, and thought I should just read about it, honestly, I just wanted to find research results that goes along with my thoughts ;)
According to Prof. Russell W. Belk, gift giving is:
“The phenomenon of selecting an object or service ‘X’ to present as a gift to person ‘Y’ on occasion ‘Z’“ in this phenomenon, “Not only must the gift giver attempt to infer the recipient’s tastes, needs, desires, and reactions, but also the gift selection may be affected by the information which it would appear to convey about the giver and the giver-recipient relationship.” 
This definition raises an important point. A gift reveals a big secret:
- The gift tells the recipient (and possibly others) what the gift giver thinks about the recipient, and exposes the image (s)he has about the recipient. “Gifts are one of the ways in which the pictures that others have of us in their minds are transmitted” -Prof. Barry Schwartz . A very simple example is the gender identification revealed in “masculine” and “feminine” gifts (like dolls to girls and cars to boys).
Sure it is possible that the choice of the gift does not convey the image the giver has of the recipient,
possible cases include: 1) the giver selects a gift randomly, 2) the giver intentionally picks a gift that differs from the recipient’s image he/she has, or 3) the giver does not know the recipient well. But wait! This also reveals other important information about:
- The relationship between the giver and the recipient. How well the giver and receiver know each other, how old is the relationship, how similar the giver and the recipient are.
- The giver’s identity! “The gift imposes an identity upon the giver as well as the receiver… The only gift is a portion of thyself. … Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture;” 
Choosing a gift is a major part of the gift-giving process, and possibly the most difficult part. But there are other important parts in the process that worth more attention
“French anthropologist-sociologist Marcel Mauss (1954) outlined three types of obligations which perpetuate gift-giving:
1. The obligation to give,
2. The obligation to receive,
3. The obligation to repay.” 
Compliance with these obligations creates a cycle of gift giving relationship between the two parties. When a recipient accepts a gift, one is accepting the giver’s thoughts of what the recipient likes or needs and is accepting (at least in part) the identity the gift is carrying about the recipient. “It follows that the receipt of gifts from two incompatible persons or groups raises questions as to the real source of one’s identification” . Maybe schizophrenic ? just playing :p, it can mean that the recipient simply doesn’t care (still, some information about the personality of the recipient is revealed). Below is a figure illustrating the gift-giving cycle between a giver and a recepient as proposed by Russell Belk 
- According to Prof. Russell Belk, it is important to reach a balance in any gift-giving relationship we have even if that means
“that a liked recipient should (for balance) be expected to like a gift which the giver dislikes, if the giver and receiver are very dissimilar. But there is still one one further relationship which modifies this prediction: the giver’s degree of satisfaction with his or her self concept.”
“Receiving is seen as similarly obligatory and avoiding or refusing gifts is construed as an unfriendly or even hostile act. Mauss noted however that there is a certain tension created in receiving a gift since acceptance is an implicit recognition of dependence on the giver. This tension may then be reduced by fulfilling the third obligation, the obligation to repay.” 
I totally agree with that, although giving gifts is initially for creating happiness, sometimes it may create disappointments, frustrations, or awkwardness (for the giver and/or the recipient) because if you can’t repay the gift, then it’s awkward, that’s one of the reasons why I said initially that I do not really like fancy gifts. Another important point in the quoted paragraph, is that the recipient’s reaction is so important for the giver, assuming that the giver is presenting a gift for the recipient to make him happy, if the recipient does not show happiness, this may cause frustration and disappointment for the giver.
But! a continuous cycle of giving, receiving and re-giving, can simply result in a boring gift giving relationship. This is why creativity and “the idea” is important, it should always be there in the gift to give it a value, something a materialistic gift can’t give.
The other day, it was my friend’s birthday, a friend I know for less than a year, so our gift-giving relationship is pretty new and I wanted to start It the way I like.
There is a joke between us about ” paper towels” those found in public washrooms. So the initial idea was that any gift should include paper towels! just for laughs : )
I took some from the washroom in our department and headed home. Flowers were the easiest thing I could think of. Here’s how you can do flowers out of paper towels:
- using scissors create a swirl-ed circle, it doesn’t have to be perfect
- start rolling from the edge till you reach the center, and you’ll see the flower completed by the end.
- cut a small circle and silicone glue to fix the flower to this circle base
- I had some wooden sticks at home which I attached to the flowers
- I looked around me and found a plant in a purple vase, and 2 dried flowers I got from an old flower bouquet. I thought my paper towel-flowers would look nice with them.
While I was heading to school with my gift, I stopped by shoppers drug mart and got some purple wrapped truffles and filled the rest of the vase with it (couldn’t take a photo then)
I left it on my friend’s desk, we had some good laughs after that :D and I think my friend will (or at least I will) always remember my washroom paper towel gift.
I talked a lot, I got bored myself! but I will end it with this: lets look back at our gift-giving relationships, and check which ones are balanced, and which ones are hectic, which are boring, and which ones make us happy.. does the other party see it the same way? maybe if we give it a little thought, we can know why, and we can fix the wrong ones, and maintain the right ones.
One last thing, just for laughs, check this out, Sheldon’s (from big bang theory) thoughts about gift giving (thanks Z for sharing)