The Psychology of Gifting —

3 min readDec 15, 2020

For it is in giving that we receive.

— St. Francis of Assisi

’Tis the season of giving (and receiving).

The ritual of gifting has become so deeply embedded within our society that we no longer question exactly why we partake in it so enthusiastically.

The latter half of the year revolves almost entirely around the build-up to the busiest shopping days. Getting through the gauntlet, starting Black Friday and ending Christmas Eve, without an empty wallet is a nigh-on impossible task.

Whether it be the pressure of finding the perfect joke gift for the office Secret Santa, or one that truly says ‘I know you’ for our most dear, gifting is the shadow that hangs over the end of the year.

In the UK alone, £24 billion gets spent on gifts over the festive period. That’s a lot for something we do without usually thinking about the deeper meaning or reasons.

But, why do we put ourselves under this pressure?

You can put it down to cultures and the perpetuated expectation for Christmas or birthday presents across the globe.

Although, gifting also allows us to form more meaningful relationships with the people around us. The act of giving is an essential aspect of social fabric (and helps to keep the economy wheel spinning).

Plus, aside from holiday obligation, there can be a variety of reasons to give someone a present:

To build and reinforce relationships.

The exchange of gifts can be a means of reflecting the nature of the relationship between gifter and giftee.

It can be to show someone our interest in beginning a relationship with them or deepening an existing one. Rejecting gifts given with this motivation can sting a fair bit, so be careful if you’re planning on putting your heart on your sleeve this Christmas.

As a way of showing love or devotion.

Similar to the above, this often occurs in romantic relationships where the gift symbolises feelings of love.

Think flowers — these are often given to reflect the sentiments they represent.

To receive a gift in return.

The expectation of reciprocation can play a large part in some people’s gift-giving habits.

When this is the case, the gifting becomes a cycle (so that no-one’s feelings get hurt). The value of the exchanged gifts should be roughly the same, too, to make it all appear fair and that you value the relationship as much as the other person. Not everyone thinks of gifting this way, but it can’t hurt to be aware!

To help others.

If this is the motivation for the gift, then typically there is no reciprocation expectation.

This is giving without assumption of getting anything in return. Often altruistic, this reason to give shows appreciation for the giftee without any strings attached.

In this way, we give presents to children without expecting them to offer us something of equal value, like how we don’t give to charity in order to get personal recognition or reward. It makes us feel good to be good for goodness’ sake.

Gift-giving can feel like a half-finished equation. You can’t always know how the recipient is going to react — do they view your relationship in the same way you do?

A key way to know what someone would want/respond well to is to listen to them. People unwittingly drop hints about what they really want all time!

Get creative with their interests and think outside the box this festive season (but, remember that you’re getting them the gift, not yourself).

Originally published at on December 15, 2020.




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