Wednesday 24 January 2024

Why do we give gifts?

When you stop and think about it, giving a present to a loved one is a bit strange - especially when you think that in most cases the recipient could have quite simply bought it for themselves (as Miley says, I can buy myself flowers..!)

But that's just thinking about gift giving as a transaction - and it's WAY more than that!

The tradition of giving gifts goes back thousands of years - probably as far back as the beginning of mankind. As social creatures (mostly) we enjoy each other's company (usually), and we like to form relationships with those that are most special to us. Of course 'special' covers a lot of instances: those we love of course, but also those we want to please for social reasons, or maybe impress, or thank, or show allegiance or deference to. Or simply as a way to let them know we appreciate them or are thinking of them. The reasons behind gift giving are many and complicated!

Sometimes gift giving is something that comes from the heart, other times it's a tactical action. Either way, quite simply, giving someone a gift is deeply ingrained in our DNA!

Going right back to pre-history, presenting a gift to someone was a way of reflecting their status - and your own. It's a perfect indicator of how we humans are such an advanced civilisation. Gift giving strengthens our social bonds and our community. It is linked to feelings of love, trust, friendship, reciprocity and cooperation.

The earliest gifts would have been pretty simple and basic (ooh, I don't know - let's picture a lovely shaped stone say, or a nice pointy animal tooth...). As humans evolved those early gifts would have progressed into something more elaborate, so that tooth would be drilled and threaded to make a nice necklace to wear when you're having a romantic date night away from the cave and kids!

Today, gifts are also given to mark celebrations on our calendar: Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. No matter what the occasion though, when you give a gift you're engaging in a practice with deep roots in history and even deeper social significance.

The key thing to remember though is that gift giving is rewarding to the giver as much (possibly more) as the recipient, which is probably why it has become such a large part of our society. Simply put, it makes us happy to give a gift. Researchers have found that it improves our state of mind, releasing dopamine in the brain giving us a sense of pleasure and reward. It triggers an emotional response and a sense of joy, happiness and satisfaction. A lot of that depends on how the recipient accepts the gift of course - we want them to feel pleasure, and appreciate our efforts. It's a mutual reward system for both giver and recipient! 

So next time you buy a special present for someone, just remember your caveman ancestor was also worrying about how to neatly wrap a round stone - and they didn't even have sellotape!

Sarah :)

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