The Gift of Giving (or Not)

Category: Play Therapy

The Gift of Giving (or Not)
Thoughtful choices and meaningful traditions
Caitlyn Andrews Valle, LMFT

A few years ago, eager to avoid the annual hubbub around buying “enough” and finding “the perfect gift,” my family began weighing the pros and cons of our holiday traditions. What we discovered was that although some of the gift giving was fun (the selecting of a surprise, the pleasure of finding a gift we think someone will enjoy), the process can also be stressful.

Have you ever wondered why holiday gift giving seems so significant? Giving presents means different things for different people, depending on your upbringing, family values and culture. For some, gift giving can represent how much you care for another person, how much that person is in your thoughts. In other cases it’s more of an expectation, and this can make it very stressful. There are also times when giving is a kind of quid pro quo, or “this for that,” meaning “I give you something so you give me something.” The tradition of gift giving is rooted in good feelings, but it also represents a value and a belief not only about the recipient, but also about the giver.

The year 2017 has been one of uncertainty for a variety of reasons. I’ve noticed a definite increase among family, friends and clients expressing both challenge and growth. Giving gifts can allow us to feel powerful and generous, especially during times when we may feel we have less control in other ways. It gives us the opportunity to choose how we spend our money and express our values.

A simple exercise can be good food for thought: How do we select gifts? Is it based on their brand and status, or perhaps on convenience? Do we pay attention to whether or not they were manufactured or produced humanely? Do we choose to purchase items based on the way we perceive their worth or durability? Are our gift choices based on what we can truly afford? Do we select gifts to send a certain message? Perhaps most important of all, in a culture of abundance, how do we explain gift giving to our children, and how do they understand what a gift means?

Marketers have made an art of finding ways to identify and target our human emotions, and what will cause us to want to buy something. Reflecting on what’s important to you and your motivations behind choosing and giving of gifts can thoughtfully inform the way you approach this holiday season.

Returning to my personal connection with gift giving, my family and I decided to start a new tradition—one of giving experiences. This can be a family vacation, a day trip, a dinner, a movie or for adults, an afternoon helping children make a gingerbread house. We discovered that this new way of giving to one another creates not only beautiful memories, but also engenders less overall stress. Phew, what a relief! We still exchange a few small, thoughtful items, but no longer is there the looming pressure to rush around and buy gifts for one another. We make a plan to have a fun, memorable experience together during every holiday season, and although there are no regrets about the many wonderful gifts we’ve exchanged over the years, we couldn’t be happier with our new tradition.

This holiday season I encourage you to put thought into your intentions, values and the messages conveyed to children around gift giving and tradition. Whether your traditions change or remain the same, sometimes just thinking about them a little differently can bring a shift in perspective. In whatever way you celebrate and come together, may it be intentional and mindful.

Wishing you and your family a joyous holiday season & New Year!