Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why People Give

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this holiday season about why people give gifts, and I think I have come up with the basic reason people give...


People give in hope, or expectation, of getting something back.

Now immediately, we think of greed as a bad thing. And with the holiday gift exchanging extravaganza that is about to be upon us, we think of the people that “exchange presents” during the holidays, knowing that if they buy a gift for someone, that someone will buy a gift for them. And yes, this is a common motivation for gift giving during the holidays, but let’s look at some other forms of greed first…

We’ve all “given” to political candidates in hopes that they will win, or perhaps given to a charity like the American Cancer Society in hopes that they will find a cure for cancer to save a family member. We hope we will benefit from the outcome of our “giving”, but so will society as a whole.

People also give as a relief of guilt, or a boost in self esteem, or a sense of religious obligation. Giving makes people feel better about themselves. Regardless of the emotional “reward”, the giving is still a good thing.

For example, you may give time at the Soup Kitchen because you genuinely want to relieve hunger. But it also makes you feel good about yourself for doing it. Just because you get an emotional reward, and it was probably the subconscious motivation for doing it in the first place, the hungry still get fed.

So how does this all relate to Holiday gift giving? You’re probably not going to save someone from freezing, or benefit all society, with the sweater you give your aunt. But you will make her feel good knowing that you cared enough to give her a token of your love. And you’ll feel good about yourself for making her feel good.

And even if you and your aunt are only exchanging gifts to get one in return, is that really a bad thing? Two people feeling good is a good thing, even if the underlying motivation is greed.

Now I know someone is screaming something about our “materialistic society” at their computer screen right now, so I feel obligated to clarify that a gift does not have to be expensive, or necessarily cost anything, to produce a positive effect. It’s the act of giving that satisfies the greed. Giving someone a box of homemade cookies will make you feel as good, if not better, then giving someone a PS3. And the recipient gets homemade cookies! Yummm!

So go ahead, give yourself permission to have a Very Greedy Christmas. It’s way more fun than a Buy Nothing Christmas ;-)

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