And, have you got all the presents yet? A question that is sure to make one or the other person twitch their eyes or palpitate so shortly before Christmas. Buying gifts is one of the most uncomfortable – and stressful – things for many of us. Especially as the year draws to a close. And yet every year we repeat the marathon through online shops or shopping centers to find the right gift for every loved one. But why do we bother giving gifts so much?
One reason for this lies in our socialization. In Western countries, most people grow up with the capitalist image that affection is also shown through material things. The gift expert Friedrich Ross once explained it like this in an interview with the "Stuttgarter Nachrichten": "Giving gifts is associated with a special appreciation that cannot be bought in a shop. You make relationships exclusive with it because you choose the people who you want to give presents to."
So giving is always linked to a certain level of expectation. When we give a gift to our loved ones, we want to convey a message to them and hope for a corresponding reaction. Incidentally, this is a form of interpersonal communication that is deeply rooted in our species and shapes our entire interaction.
The American sociobiologist Robert Trivers put forward the theory of "reciprocal altruism" back in the 1990s. This theory describes that assistance and gifts are always mutual. When we give someone a gift, we make the recipient want to give something back.
The sociologist Elfie Micklautz put the concept in a nutshell in an interview with "Deutsche Welle" as follows: "When I give someone something, I implicitly expect that it will be answered in some way. Even if it's just a 'thank you '" And even gift expert Ross does not consider us to be pure altruists, but: "Our religion has taught us that giving is more blessed than receiving."
So with a gift in hand, we're in good shape ourselves. Especially when the gift really brings joy to the recipient. So we often put the pressure on ourselves to put the fanciest or most expensive gifts under the Christmas tree. Our reward: the brief moment of joy when unpacking and the illusory certainty that we have enriched the life of the recipient. So it's also about giving ourselves a moment of recognition.
"It is precisely this moment of handover that we shouldn't focus on when giving gifts, as we usually do," says social psychologist Janina Steinmetz in an interview with "Deutschlandfunk". Rather, it is about the long-term benefits for the recipient and the personal touch of the gift. According to the sociologist Micklautz, such a gift is characterized above all by the fact that it fulfills a genuine wish of the recipient or contains a reference to the special interpersonal relationship.
Instead of going through the stress of running from store to store looking for the supposedly right gift for our loved ones, it is more important that we pay attention to the important people in our lives and listen to what they really want to have. A number of studies show that when giving presents, it is not important that they are as pompous as possible. It's about strengthening the connection to the recipient.
It's often the little things that bring the most joy as a gift. And, you probably know it yourself, it's nicest when you notice that the donor has really thought about it. And before that degenerates into stress: Studies show that, in addition to shared experiences, people are most likely to be happy about the things they really want. And there is still enough time to simply ask. That sounds unromantic at first, but saves disappointed faces in front of the Christmas tree - on both sides.