The Surprising Psychology Behind Gifting

February 9, 2016


I hope you’re ready! Valentine’s Day is 5 days away. We all know the adage, “it’s the thought that counts,” but the anxiety of trying to buy the perfect gift still strikes fear into the hearts of men (and women) everywhere. What makes us so nervous about the act of giving someone a gift? Gift giving is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction. There’s even a field of science devoted to studying it: Gift Psychology.

Giving Gifts Helps Define Relationships.

“Who is on your gift list is telling you who is important in your life,” says, Mary Ann McGrath, the Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Business at Loyola University Chicago. “It says who is more important and who is less important.” A person can show newfound interest, strengthen an existing bond or signal that a relationship should end all through the gifts that they give. For example, one woman I knew decided to end her relationship after her partner gave her a stuffed bear for her fortieth birthday! It’d be one thing if they’d just started dating, but they’d been together for over fifteen years! The gift showed that he no longer cared about her and the relationship but just didn’t have the nerve to pull the plug. Likewise, people who stop giving gifts lose out on these important social cues.

Gift Giving Strengthens Bonds with Family and Friends.

Buying a loved one a gift encourages you to think about things the other person likes. “There is the whole act — determining what needs to be given and making sure it fits with the person,” says Devin A. Byrd, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at South University — Savannah. This past Christmas, I bought my partner a fancy coffee maker. He’d been talking about needing a new one for months, but hadn’t managed to get off his butt and buy one. I don’t particularly like coffee, but I do care about him and in order to get him the right gift, I had to do my research. I learned a little bit more about him in the process. People give gifts as a way of showing thoughtfulness and love to those they care about. Gift giving is a way to reinforce our feelings for others and help us feel effective and caring in a relationship.

Gift Giving Often Benefits the Giver as Well as the Recipient.

Not only is there an tremendous sense of satisfaction (and relief!) when seeing the face of someone you’ve given the perfect gift to, researchers believe that giving is actually good for your health! The following health benefits are associated with gift giving:

  • Greater happiness
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less depression
  • Lower stress levels
  • Longer life

Not bad, right? In our next post, we will tackle gift cards vs personal gifts, regifting, and gender differences in giving/receiving gifts. Until then, happy living and gifting!

— The SmartGift Team

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