The Mindful Holiday Giving Guide

Welcome to the December edition of the Simply Living Blog CarnivalGift Giving cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children and Laura at Authentic Parenting. This month, we write about taking the stress out of gift giving.


What this gift guide is:

A way to key in on how and why gifts are given. Hopefully after reading, it will help make the choice of how and why we give in relation to how and why we appreciate gifts we are given.

What this gift guide is not:

A list of gifts that will make someone appear mindful. Nor is it list of gifts for someone into mindfulness.

This guide also is not deciding whether one motivation for giving is better than another.



Most of us think we are thoughtful gift givers. Many of us spend a lot of time picking out the perfect gift for someone, even though wishlists are readily available on many popular sites. We can easily ask and almost instantaneously receive a response for specific items that we know will be wanted by the receiver.

Whether or not we enjoy the hunt for the perfect gift, the research about how a giver and the receiver feels about a gift is intriguing. Once we understand our motivations, we can then make the mindful choice about why we are choosing a particular gift. Whether it is for our excitement of the hunt, the recipient’s pleasure in the receipt, our enjoyment in their gratitude or some combination of these.

Giving has four main motivations:

1. Surprise

We hope that our present will be an unknown for the recipient because of the thrill of surprise.

2. Suspense

We hope that the anticipation of finding out what the gift is will be an enjoyable experience for our intended receiver.

3. Sacrifice

We hope that our time, effort and money spent will be appreciated.

4. Sharing

We hope that our feelings of excitement for the surprise, suspense, and sacrifice will expand to include the recipient. We also hope that the gift itself is an expression of our wish to share.

This leads us to the symbolic value and the instrumental value of giving a gift. The giver finds where each of these matter in relation to each other when purchasing. The belief is that if the balance is right, it will be a thoughtful gift.

The symbolic value of a gift is what means to the giver. The instrumental value of a gift is its usefulness to either person.

Yet, it can be extremely difficult to decide how the recipient will feel about both instrumental and symbolic value, much less how they will feel about the balance between them. Expectations about how thoughtful or valuable the gift will be received, as well as the amount of gratitude expressed can also be a large factor within each of these motivations. It is important to look at motivations and then give freely or state charges up front so the giver isn’t disappointed and the recipient doesn’t feel resentful.

Studies show that the giver is focused on all of the things they considered before selecting the gift. They pay more attention to the cost or perceived usefulness of an item in relation to the choices they did not purchase. “What is surprising is that gift-givers have considerable experience acting as both gift-givers and gift-recipients, but nevertheless tend to overspend each time they set out to purchase a meaningful gift.” (Flynn, Adams)

They are also prone to focus more on their own feelings, rather than the recipients due to the four romanticized giving motivations. Getting caught up in their motivations, the giver believes that they are being more thoughtful because of the money, time and effort they spent on gift, regardless of whether their ideas meet with the requests of the recipient, whether implied or explicit.

In gift exchange, gift givers may fail to pay close attention to what a gift recipient directly requests. Instead, they may believe that purchasing an unrequested item will signal a sincere concern for the recipient because of the effort they have made to identify a seemingly appropriate gift, thus rendering the gift more personal and thoughtful. (Gino, Flynn)

But the recipient isn’t aware of that list of choices. They only see the end result: the gift they received. It doesn’t matter to them, like it does to the giver, that this item was chosen out of all the others that were considered. The giver can look directly at a wishlist and decide to choose something else, because to them, it feels the more thoughtful choice.

Yet gift recipients may be frustrated when givers do not take note of their explicit suggestions. Gift recipients will likely consider gifts they requested as more thoughtful and considerate of their needs than those not requested because the former indicate that the giver is attentive and responsive. (Gino, Flynn)

So, where does this leave us for choosing the gift that doesn’t miss the mark? The studies show that the most thoughtful gifts are those that are either explicitly asked for or cash or gift cards. However, they place the emphasis on the recipient’s opinion. It is important to factor in the giver’s motivations and satisfaction in choosing and giving.

Once we look at how we are choosing a gift, then we can decide how to do it with mindfulness. It is certainly a relief to know that if we don’t have time or energy to spend in picking out a gift ourselves, that money or an item that is explicitly requested will be best appreciated by the recipient.

There is nothing wrong with giving gifts the same way we always do. There isn’t anything wrong with disliking the ideas the studies support. Once we look at the data and notice any sticky places they bring up for us, we can let go of those places that were stuck. It helps us to give with thoughtfulness.

Of course, the recipient won’t know any of the mental steps we took to decide in our giving anyway. So, if we mindfully choose to go with a balance of the information from the studies and our own motivations as givers, while also acknowledging that our expectations may not match up with reality, it’s arguable that the gift will hit the target for the recipient.

But, the givers can do so from a more clear place that allows them to freely enjoy however the recipient reacts to the gift. Motivations for giving, in this case help both participants in the exchange meet their needs.


Original Image Source: Wikimedia Heart-Stone

Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children and Laura at Authentic Parenting. Read about how others are simplifying gift giving. Check back to see what we have in store for 2014!

  • Keeping Gifts Simple – JW at True Confessions of a Real Mommy shares a few simple ways to limit gift giving and keep your holiday about the thought over the thing..
  • The Mindful Holiday Giving Guide – How many times have you carefully chosen a present for someone and find you missed the mark? Zoie at TouchstoneZ identifies key ways to give mindful holiday gifts that will be truly appreciated.
  • Giving Gifts that Keep Giving – At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy shares ideas to help gift givers think outside the (gift) box with gifts that keep on giving.
  • Greening the Giving Spirit – Momma Giraffe at Little Green Giraffe writes more eco-friendly Christmas wish-list for her family this year – passing on plastic and gift wrap and saying yes to memories, moments and experience.
  • No Toys? : Giving Our Children Gifts that Make Memories – This year, Jacquie at My Blessings Homeschool and her husband decided to do things a little differently with gifts that will make lasting memories instead of the toys that will be lost, broken or forgotten.
  • Quick and Easy DIY Gift: Flower Petal Sugar – At Authentic Parenting, Laura whips up a quick and easy last minute gift.

Do you have traditions or methods revolving around simplifying gifts? Do you have a great tutorial on how to make something? We want to hear about it! Just link up your new and old posts before January 16, 2014 in the linky at the carnival hosts’ posts.

One thought on “The Mindful Holiday Giving Guide

  1. Pingback: Greening the Giving Spirit -

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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