Gift giving isn’t always a straightforwardly happy exchange, though. What if you give a bad one?
“There’s always the negative side,” says Mark. “We have a lot of anxiety around giving gifts, because it is such an important aspect of having an ‘in-group’” – a close community of people with shared interests and values.
For the gift giver, the stakes are usually high. And much of the time, we get it wrong. As American psychologist Barry Schwartz pointed out in his famous 1967 article ‘The social psychology of the gift’, the presents we give “reveal an important secret: the idea which the recipient evokes in the imagination of the giver”.
According to Viren Swami, professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, there are two sides to the gift-giving paradigm. One is ‘recipient-centric’, “where you try to find a gift that reflects the qualities or interests of the person receiving the gift”, he writes in The Conversation. And the other is ‘giver-centric’, “where you are focused on giving something that reflects [your] own personality or discloses something about you as an individual”.
“But which option is better?” Viren ponders. Surprisingly, giver-centric gifts tend to be preferred by receivers. “Rather than trying to prove how much you know a person by buying something you think they will like, there’s greater meaning in giving gifts that reflect your own personality or likes,” he concludes.