By: Faye Smith

Finding gifts for the people we love has a much deeper meaning than simply celebrating their special occasion. On the surface, we want to make them happy with our gift and give them something they will enjoy. On a deeper level, the gifts we present to loved ones communicates our unique relationships, societal structures and psychological trends reflected in the times we live in.

A Brief History of Gift Giving

Gifts have been exchanged since the beginning of human evolution. There is research which explains that cavemen used to give gifts such as shapely rocks, shiny animal teeth or tree bark. As time continued, gifts (much like humans) evolved: holes were drilled into teeth to create necklaces whilst weapons were wielded to present to friends and loved ones.

Much later, notably, the Ancient Egyptians provided plenty of gifts for those who crossed over into the afterlife. Tombs and pyramids were built to house a multitude of bowls, combs, food, gold, jewellery, and furniture which the dead was to use and enjoy in death. The wealthier the person, the more gifts were bestowed, thus proving their status in society.

Gifts have been given to gods and goddesses in exchange for safe passage and favour on the battlefield, as exemplified by the Ancient Greeks. Huge temples and statues were built in honour of them, but - more interestingly - travellers were welcomed into any family home with food and a place to rest in case they were gods in disguise. Plus, the Ancient Greeks gave gifts for the same reasons we do as a society today: to build relationships, express emotion, and for charitable reasons.

During the Middle Ages, gifts were given as part of important societal gain with plenty presented to the king and church to show allegiance. A leading example of gift giving during this period is the offering of dowries. Dowries were given by a bride's father to her future husband to promote and secure their relationship. Items given could range from money to land, depending on the wealth of the bride's family.

Whilst today's Western societies don't particularly give land in exchange for a daughter's engagement or fill tombs with splendour, gift giving is still a prominent aspect of our culture and a means to prosper relationships whether they are close-knit or on a broader scale.

Why do we give gifts?

Gifts reflect love and affection, which is shown in the theory of "symbolic interactionism" which dictates people communicate through a series of symbols. For example, the gift of an engagement ring provides a promise of ever-lasting commitment and love whilst the giving of flowers is favoured gifts by men for their fragrance and beauty.

    -    Symbolic communication

It's the thought that counts. How many times have you heard that phrase? Or said it yourself? Usually, we say it to make ourselves/others feel better if there is a lack of funds involved when buying a gift for someone. Well, there is also a deeper meaning to this. Psychologically, we - as receivers - tend to attach symbolic meaning to the gift in terms of thoughtfulness rather than the amount spent. Sometimes the reason why we feel disappointment when receiving a gift is not to do with the physical gift itself, but the symbolism it is communicating. For example, if you support a particular football team, but you receive merchandise from another, you would feel disappointed because the giver does not know you well enough - or hasn't listened - to know which team you do support.

    -    To receive something in return

Another phrase that tends to do the rounds in society is "Don't give to receive". Well, in the psychology of gift giving, the opposite is true. Dimitri Mortelmans, a sociology professor in Belgium, explains there is an unspoken "debt-balance to keep" within relationships. Ideally, each gift within the exchange is worth roughly the same amount. If a gift is too cheap, the recipient may feel the giver undervalues their relationship whilst if it is too expensive, this could cause embarrassment for both parties. This constant "debt-balance" will ensure the relationship lasts a long time, further cementing the bond as explained in the first point.

    -    To help others

There are moments when gifts are given simply to help others. These are given without wanting anything in return. For example, we give to children with no expectation of receiving a gift in return. Parents who are able might give money to their children for life-changing opportunities. We also give to charities to try and help find cures for cancer and give less fortunate people or animals more support in the world. One theory which explains this example of gift giving infers it releases a dopamine-using pleasure circuitry in the brain which makes us feel good about our actions.

    -    To find a mate

Animals and humans are extremely alike when it comes to gift giving. Our closest animal relation, chimpanzees, give gifts in exchange for sex and grooming, therefore maintaining their current mate. Scientists have concluded that, as serial monogamists, we use gift giving to retain and attract possible "mates". A study shows men who gave more excessively formed longer-lasting relationships. Women, on the other hand, were shown to give gifts to strengthen social networks with family and friends rather than possible or concrete relationships.

Four type of gifts

According to Mary Finley Wolfinbarger, from the University of California, there are four types of motivations within the Psychology of Gift Giving: of the self and the giver; the giver's knowledge of the receiver; the occasions; expressive gifts with an array of significant meanings.

    -    Symbolic of the self and of the giver

That feel-good feeling you get in your brain when someone truly lights up upon receiving your gift is one of the reasons we gift. Humans need social interaction, and it is no different with gifting. Each new gift exchange provides some sort of communication, bond, or reinforcement of relationships. Therefore, when choosing a gift, we think of ourselves as the ideal giver and what the recipient will think of our gift, putting the focus on ourselves rather than the recipient.

    -    Symbolic of the giver's knowledge of the receiver

This is proven to be the category in which most gifts received were favoured above all else. The more selfless a gift is perceived by the receiver (i.e. the giver goes into a store they do not know or particularly like), the higher they regard the gift as something special. Therefore, it is not only the gift itself which is enjoyed, but also the thought process and "sacrifices" the giver makes in order to provide this gift.

    -    Symbolic of the occasion

Gifts mark major milestones in life such as birthdays, weddings, having a baby and retirement. Usually, the gifts given also represent such occasions. For example, the traditional wedding gift is homeware, linked to the notion that a pair of newlyweds are about to embark on their next chapter together. Another example: a pram, car seat or bouncer are given for expectant parents to help them bring their baby into the world.

    -    Expressive gifts that contain an array of significant meanings

Symbols which include uniqueness, togetherness, represent of a particular turning point in life, and encompass multiple things are all motivations to buy a gift which will stand the test of time. Academic professional, Clark D. Olson, states "Human experiences are so complex, people are forced to summarize them" which confirms the reason for expressive gifting.

The Psychology of Finding the Perfect Gift

According to psychologists, there are three rules for finding the perfect gift:

    1.    Appropriateness
    2.    Empathy
    3.    Effort

All three points relate to Mary Finley Wolfinberger's research about the four types of gifting as discussed earlier.

The perfect gift must be appropriate to the occasion and recipient; what is the point of giving a romantic break to a newly single person at their Divorce Party? An extreme example, but it happens.

It must show empathy in which the gift has been thought about in terms of whether the recipient would truly love and appreciate it, rather than whether the giver wants to present the gift for their own gain.

The effort shown is reflected in the sacrifices made in order to buy the gift, be it financial or time related.

Gift Giving and Social Media

In the age of millennials and Gen Z, it's all about what looks good on social media. We tend to use Facebook and Instagram as a highlight reel of life and so, gift giving with that in mind has certainly climbed the ladder of importance in the last few years. Experiences are more likely to be given in this day and age as they provide optimum opportunities to showcase the wealth, excitement, and intrigue of the recipient's daily life.

Gifts at Find Me a Gift

The gifts we choose for our customers encompass our three core values: experience, sentimentality, and fun. Whilst we certainly have departments which reflect these values (our range of experience days is top notch, our personalised gifts are sure to bring a tear to any eye, and our funny and novelty gift provide hours of laughter), we believe every one of our gifts will give loved ones an unforgettable experience, are personal to the unique relationship you share, and will provide an element of fun, too.

The reasons why we, as a society, give gifts are the exact same reasons as why we, as a brand, provide you with them... mostly.