Are you a good gift-giver, receiver, or both?
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may be aware that I have been spending time in my home country with my family. Some of you may think that travelling during this crazy time is irresponsible, but as a person with medical knowledge, I weigh the risks and benefits and base my decision on what I would regret more: Going and getting sick, or not spending time with my family? This time, going has won.
Whenever I travel to my home country, I bring a few small gifts with me; usually something I think my sisters, nieces, nephews, and friends would enjoy. And while I am not always on target, giving a gift is a way to say: "I love and care about you."
To say this, I have also learned that gift-giving and receiving is a contentious topic for many people. I have seen some people in my family insisting that we should stop gift-giving, saying it makes them feel uncomfortable, which made me ponder the pros and cons of gift-giving that I would like to share with you. I also compared how humans and dogs differ in gift-giving and receiving.
I will start with dogs, because not only are they amazing givers, but they also know how to receive gifts. It would be difficult not to notice Pax’s excitement when he gets a toy, a bone, or a treat. The explosion of happiness is self-evident, which allows me to experience the joy of giving.
Of course, our dogs can’t go to the store and buy us a physical gift, nor do they understand the concept of monetary value. They show us that gifts don't need to be expensive or limited to material things.
They are extremely generous with the gift of happiness and joy which stimulates the release of serotonin, the body’s “feel good” substance. They give us the gift of walks and time in nature. They give us the gift of attention and unconditional love.
The joy of giving is also the core reason why people give gifts, but unfortunately, that process is much more complicated. We humans don’t have the same aptitude and have tonnes to learn from our dogs.
For example, some people don’t even open a gift when it is given, unaware that they rob the giver of the joy of giving. Not seeing the receiver unwrap the gift, which represents the message of “I love you, and I care about you” is a let down for most, if not all, gift-givers.
There are also situations when people do not want to receive gifts, and I wonder why. Perhaps they don’t realize that gift-giving is an expression of love and care or they feel like they have to “repay” the gift by giving another gift, which is usually not true. Most givers love giving and don't expect a gift in return.
Some people feel they have to pretend they love the gift, when they don't, which is not exactly true either. Everyone can say something truthful like, “Thanks for thinking of me, thank you for spending the time to look for a thoughtful gift."
There are other types of gifts we can give one another, and most people appreciate them more, for example the gift of listening, or the gift of sharing enthusiasm. If your friend talks about golf and you don’t play the game yourself, try to enjoy seeing the happiness on their face, and give them the gift of sharing in their joy.
Some people may be very adamant that they absolutely don't want any gifts, yet they always want to give. For example, I have friends I love dearly, and whenever I travel they insist on picking me up at the airport. It is clearly evident they care about me, however, when they travel, they don't want me to pick them up. I wish they understood that it gives me the same degree of pleasure to pick them up as it gives them to do the same for me.
So, what is the solution to this complex process of gift-giving? Here is my suggestion:
- It is a gift to allow others to give us gifts, if that is their wish.
- It may be useful to sit down with your family and agree on what to do around birthdays and Christmas, because when there is an agreement, people do not need to feel embarrassed that they received a gift and didn’t bring one.
- It may be a good compromise to agree to do “gifts for kids under 15 only”.
- The other way to overcome the gift-giving quandary, is to do “Secret Santa” where each person in the group brings a gift, and then everyone draws a number. The lowest number picks the first gift, and then the second person can either pick a gift or “steal” the first person’s gift. If your gift is “stolen,” you have to take a new gift from under the tree. Each person can steal only once in a round. It is fun!
- If you have people coming to stay with you for an extended period of time, tell them, “I would love to have you stay, but please don’t bring major gifts.” Maybe you can ask them to bring you something you love from their hometown - chocolate, a bottle of wine, or a supplement or treat for your dog. ;-) When your friends ask you if they could stay with you, it is ok to say: "Yes, I would be happy to have you for a week, and you can take us out for a simple meal." This way, you avoid disappointment and make it easier for visitors.
It is all about not holding resentment!
Many acclaimed psychologists and doctors have shown that holding any kind of resentment leads to depression, decreased quality of life, and even worse, disease. Sometimes, it is hard to be direct but with a little bit of practice, it leads to clarity and better relationships.
And when someone gives you a gift, accept it and enjoy the love coming your way -- the same way dogs do!
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM