Give Better Gifts, Gift With Purpose

Give Better Gifts, Gift With Purpose

‘Tis the season.

Everyone’s putting together their shopping list: who to buy gifts for and what to buy. Retailers offer countless discounts and keep their doors open longer, in an effort to draw consumers in and spend. There’s no denying the process can be overwhelming. It becomes easy to lose sight of why we gift and to start viewing it as a chore. Let’s aim to change that this season and help give better gifts by gifting with purpose!

Origins of Gifting

There are a number of other holidays landing in December (e.g., Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.). Most of which are religious and I will not explore in this article. While Christmas is a religious holiday, it has somehow transformed into a commercialized and global “tradition”.

From a religious perspective, the custom of giving gifts originated from the gifts presented to Jesus by the three wise men. It’s ultimately to remind believers of the gift of Jesus. However, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s when giving gifts on Christmas day became more common folk as it was slowly commercialized. According to historian Stephen Nissenbaum, the act of gifting on Christmas occurred due to a couple of factors working together:

The first was the desire, from wealthy elites, to bring celebrations inwards. During the 1800-1850’s, the population in New York grew exponentially. It was common for poorer people to demand food and drinks from the wealthy during certain dates, such as Halloween and periods from early December to the New Year. A group of wealthy elites, who called themselves “the Knickerbockers”, were concerned with this and wanted to shift the celebrations from in the streets to inside individual homes. How else do you lure people to stay inside and celebrate? Gifts.

The second came at the start of the toy industry in the 1820’s. It soon became difficult to satisfy the insatiable desire for toys among children. Parents attempted to control access and limit doses of gift giving for children, while retailers propelled the idea in an effort to capitalize.


Why We Give

Irrespective of any religion, why do we continue to give on Christmas despite the act being a byproduct of the wealthy’s insecurity and capitalism? Arguably it has become a global tradition, with the majority of those born within the last 2 generations raised under this custom. It’s not unusual for us to want to continue with tradition; especially one that entails giving and receiving gifts.

Giving makes us feel good. The idea of giving, without any expectation of receiving in return, elicits a gratifying sentiment. A similar feeling can be attained through charity or volunteer work, and is often even heightened. The pleasure comes from knowing you’ve taken care of someone you love.


A study performed by researchers at UC Santa Barbara tested the neural activity of participants when asked to either keep a sum of money (up to $128) or donate a portion (if not all) to a list of charities. The study concluded with two (rather comforting) results: 1) All participants donated over 40% of this money to charities 2) There was greater activity in the mesolimbic pathway after participants donated a portion of the money to charity, compared to the activity when participants first received it and believed it would be for themselves.

The mesolimbic pathway is the brain’s “reward system” and controls the release of dopamine, allowing us to feel pleasure. While it may not always be initially apparent, this study suggests our brains are wired to feel more pleasure when giving as opposed to receiving.

Additional research has shown regular acts of giving, such as volunteer work, can help reduce the amount of stress in one’s life. One study by UC Berkeley, found that elderly people who volunteered 2 or more times a week were 44% less likely to die over a 5-year period, while controlling for factors such as age, exercise habits, and both good and bad health habits.

Gift With Purpose

The aforementioned psychological and even physical benefits make giving easy. Finding the right gift is the difficult part. Shifting your mind to gift with purpose places you in the recipient’s shoes and will ultimately lead to giving better gifts.

To gift with purpose means to dedicate time for active thought for each person on your list. Place yourself in their vantage point and imagine what makes them happy or fulfilled. An easy place to begin is by recounting the last moment the two of you shared. This process allows you to practice empathy; which is key to finding a good gift. Attempt to “see” the world through someone else’s perspective.

Gifting, when thoughtfully performed, has the ability to promote interpersonal connection with loved ones. It encourages you to actively think about the recipient and what makes them special. This process will not only guide you towards a better gift, but more importantly, reinforce bonds with family and friends. It can transform the holiday shopping process from a chore to something enjoyable, once you view gifting from this perspective.


Gift Ideas

Check out some purposeful gift ideas below:

  • Knowledge: Empower your loved ones this holiday season with knowledge. Give them a book or enroll them in a class/seminar on a topic they’ve expressed interest in. Encourage them to pursue their passions. Sometimes we just need a gentle nudge in the right direction.
  • Resources: Equip family and friends with what they need for success. Depending on your budget and the recipient’s circumstances, this is virtually anything so put a little more thought here. New camera lenses for the photographer or sketchpad for the artist. An alternative approach is to offer loved ones resources that have significantly impacted YOUR life. This could be something they’re unaware of but you’ve gained value from, and believe will enhance the lives of others.
  • Experiences: Relationships are built on experiences. Why not continue to foster this through a trip or adventure together?
  • Practical: Don’t forget about everyday essentials too! I’m not talking about toilet paper or laundry detergent here. Think about the person’s daily routine and the items they consistently use, such as kitchenware or grooming products. A newer, more helpful version of this may have the ability to significantly improve their quality of life!


Try approaching your holiday season with these tips in mind, you might be surprised with the results.

Even if their reaction isn’t exactly what you envisioned, it’s okay. Take solace in the fact you tried your best, likely developed a better understanding of the recipient and move on. Let’s not make gifting more stressful than it needs to be.

Happy holidays.



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