Why do we give gifts to each other

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Kevin Mangelschots

Giving presents to each other when we go to a person’s party, birthday, or marriage is considered a normal social ritual. This gift exchanging cycle has been around for a long time.

Receiving presents, especially from the people we love dearly, is probably something we all remember and look back on fondly.

But why exactly do we give gifts to each other? Is it to show our appreciation and love to one another? Or are there multiple different reasons at play? Let’s find out.

Reasons for giving presents

An assortment of small Christmas presents on a red foil background

  • To show our appreciation to each other

    One of the main reasons for giving presents is to show our appreciation and affection for that person.

    There are many ways we show our love and appreciation to each other in our daily lives. And giving a present is just another way of saying, “I like you.”

    No matter how small the gift, it is quite literally a token of appreciation, making its emotional value much higher than its material worth most of the time.

  • To form a bond

    Giving presents to each other has a long and ancient history to bond with each other.

    It can aid to create a connection with people by showing how valuable they actually are to us.

    People like to feel appreciated. And getting a present from the people we love is exactly that. Appreciation in a materialistic form, with an emotional worth that can’t be put into words.

  • To define our relationships

     

    Good relationships thrive on reciprocal altruism, trust, and love.

    Giving someone a gift signals “I like you, I trust you, and you are important to me.” This can help take a relationship that’s already thriving to even higher places.

  • To show how valuable that person is to us

    There are a lot of different ways people show their appreciation to each other.

    The most common ones being verbal appreciation in the form of compliments, physical appreciation gestures like hugging, high-fiving, fist bumping, or even a simple pat on the back among many others.

    Giving a present to someone else is the materialistic way of showing your thanks towards that person.

    And since money is a valuable commodity to human beings, buying a gift for someone else is quite literally like giving money in the form of a hopefully interesting present.

  • Helps us to connect with each other

    One of the benefits of giving gifts is creating a positive, reciprocal atmosphere. It can even make you appear more attractive to the other party.

    This makes it easier to connect with each other. Not to mention that the effort of giving a present will be appreciated and most likely returned with friendship, trust, love and possibly even receiving a gift in return somewhere down the road!

    And let’s face it, who doesn’t like to get a small token of gratitude from someone we adore?

  • Gift exchanging makes us feel good

     

    Image of a cat with a smile and teeth painted on a piece of paper in front of the cat's face.

    Gift exchanging releases endorphins in the body. Those endorphins are basically our happiness hormone that influence our mood and mental state for the better.

    As a result, giving and receiving presents both make us feel good. It’s the same effect you would get from working out, drinking alcohol, or eating a lot of fast food. Although, the last two are poor long-term strategies and are best done in moderation to prevent running into trouble.

  • Reciprocal altruism

    Reciprocal altruism means an agreement or equal binding of two parties in the selfless concern for the well-being of each other.

    Sounds like a mouthful, but it’s much simpler than the definition implies.

    Gift giving is thus also performed in the hopes that the gift receiver will help us in the future in our own time of need. It operates on the, “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” principle.

    Of course, mutual selflessness is not the main reason for giving a token of appreciation to each other, but it can be a big factor when trying to enact a favor.

The psychology of gift giving explained

A close up point of view of a young person giving a Christmas Present.

Research suggests that the psychology of gift giving can be explained by allowing us to express our feelings and appreciation for them, while also setting up, and confirming our personal connection with others.
 
It activates certain parts of our brain that are associated with experiencing pleasure by releasing endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, making us feel better instantly. It shows empathy, and that we value, and care about the recipient.
 

Why are gifts important in a relationship?

Gifts are important in a relationship because they can show our appreciation and gratitude for our loved ones, while simultaneously strengthening the relationship between partners.
 
It’s also critical to communicate our love, kindness, romance, emotions, and even a heartfelt apology by asking forgiveness. These emotions can be conveyed easier through a present than words at times since some feelings are difficult to explain, or show to our spouse.
 

Why do I like giving gifts?

Illustration of a present.
 
We often like giving gifts because it initiates, or reasserts, a deep bond and connection with other people. This shows our admiration for them, by communicating our feelings through gifting.
 
This builds intense social bonds and nurtures strong, long-lasting relationships with those we adore.
 
Endowing presents also releases certain endorphins such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin that make us feel good since they influence our mood positively.
 

And lastly, we might enjoy donating a token of our appreciation in the hope that we’ll get one in return eventually.

The more expensive the present the more we appreciate the person?

Image of the word “expensive” written with scrabble pieces.

Generally speaking, the more expensive the present, the more we appreciate that person. However, intention and emotional value of the gift are equally important when determining how much we value someone else.

It is true that we usually give more expensive gifts to the people we love dearly. Individuals who are genetically close to us like our parents, children, and grandparents typically receive a more costly gift.

Compare this to a grandnephew or acquaintance we only see once a year, and odds are that this person is going to get a smaller, less pricey gift. Which is only logical, seeing as they’re nowhere near as close to us emotionally and physically as the other related family members that we often interact with.

Think of it this way: Money is a valuable commodity and is rare in the sense that it’s fairly hard to obtain. Or at least to acquire a large amount of money. Thus, spending a large sum of money on a present with this scarce commodity is a symbol of importance.

It shows exactly how fond we are of, and how much that person means to us.

What do gifts mean?

Illustration of a man scratching their head while holding a yellow question mark.

A gift means donating a thing of one’s own accord without payment, or necessarily expecting something in return.

A gift is typically given in the form of a present to show appreciation and gratitude.

Conclusion

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

There isn’t one specific answer to why people give presents to each other.

Humans are social animals. And like all social animals, bonding, trusting, and assisting each other are all vital for our survival, as well as for our own sense of well-being.

Just like a physical touch or a verbal compliment are signs of appreciation, so is a materialistic gift in the form of a present.

Remember that although we tend to give more expensive gifts to people close to us, intention and emotional value are of equal importance to determine how much we cherish an individual!