Giving and receiving: a human understanding.

Posted by Cristina Balanzo on the 19th December, 2018
One thing is clear for all of us: we may spend a lot of money and time on buying gifts at Christmas, but the good news is that we are nurturing our relationships and the love we have for others by doing so.

The Royal Voluntary Service recently employed our Walnut Omnibus to look into gift giving intentions of the nation this year. With our help, they were able to figure out that giving time was high on the agenda for Great Britain this Christmas. We began to think, what is it about giving and receiving gifts that makes us feel so good? Why do we do it so religiously, especially around Christmas time?

Reading the cues.

Every year, the festive period makes people see and feel the world around them differently. We have all been impacted throughout our lives with Christmas values and easily recognisable cues that make us feel the way we do. Also, brands are always trying to emotionally impact us using these symbols and images; always searching for a role to play in this period. The recent rise of Christmas advert culture and the potential these have to move and affect us are testament to this.

When we are children, we are mainly driven by receiving presents. Later, we start learning that giving is also important: quite simply, it makes us feel good. “Sharing is caring” after all… But as soon as we grow up, being part of our peer group and, indeed, part of our families, the art of giving becomes perhaps more important than receiving. In fact, we know through behavioural economics, that we are hard wired to give something back when we receive something – this is known as the reciprocity bias. This human reciprocity is crucial and showing mutual love becomes more important than just receiving presents.

Reciprocity is primal.

Among primates we also see this reciprocity, a two-way relationship. Take, for example, social grooming: it responds to adaptive functions, but beyond hygiene reasons, social bonding and protection are some of the real motives behind this particular act of giving.

So, it is true that we feel emotionally fulfilled when we give presents, both material or experiential, but always behind this giving there are other social and secret goals that explain the way we behave and feel about giving presents. We give today to receive tomorrow regardless of the shape or form this giving takes. We all know that giving presents will reinforce our relationships and generate positive emotions for the future. Our brains are wired to give as we are social creatures and we need each other for surviving.

Experiential gifts connect us socially.

There is new research suggesting that giving an experience rather than a material item can strengthen a relationship even more than material presents. This makes a lot of sense as we know an experience is more immersive; involving all our senses and having a higher chance of bringing a greater emotional response among receivers and givers. This experiential dimension will be more socially connecting, rewarding and will increase the possibility of long lasting communal memories. So, maybe when The Royal Voluntary Service uncovered that nearly one in five (17%) adults in Great Britain plan to volunteer over the Christmas period, with 14% intending to volunteer on Christmas Day itself, it might be because they want to feel this personal immersion, this communal kindness and harmony, this fulfilling sensation that you have when you are doing well or simply you are making someone happier. Giving something experiential has far more impact than giving money or material items. This sheds further light on the RVS research, revealing that 54% of people believe the gift of time to help others is the most valuable gift you can give.

One thing is clear for all of us: we may spend a lot of money and time on buying gifts at Christmas, but the good news is that we are nurturing our relationships and the love we have for others by doing so. Gifting is an art that makes us feel good, it is effective and rewarding for all the people involved.

Meet the Author: Cristina Balanzo
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