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Invest interest and true affection to capture the spirit of gift-giving for any occasion.  Taking the time or even “stumbling” upon the right gift can bring satisfaction and joy to the occasion.

Gift-giving has the potential to be one of life’s most pleasurable joys, or one of its most miserable duties. With seasonal celebrations for many cultures just a few weeks away, many of us will experience a mixture of excitement and dread as we begin shopping for family and workplace events.

Gift-giving has always been part of our history. In almost all early religions, gifts were offered to gods as a form of sacrifice or thanksgiving. Humans have long exchanged gifts to curry favour, to express thanks or more broadly to seal pacts between tribes or nations. Many of our current gifting practices are based on ancient traditions of various religions and countries.

In modern North American culture, gifts are also given to celebrate life transitions – birthdays, graduations, weddings, new ventures, etc. Frequently, gifts are given spontaneously to show affection, pleasure or to express support. The arrival of flowers gladdens any heart!

However, gifts can also pose a financial and emotional burden on the giver, and any gift offered begrudgingly out of duty or pressure defeats the purpose. Essentially, a gift must come from a heartfelt desire to bring pleasure. A present should not come with strings attached or be given with the expectation of reciprocation. Rejection of any gift because it doesn’t suit one’s taste is also socially unacceptable.

Unfortunately, we have been encouraged to believe that “a gift deserves a gift’, and further that they must be of equal value. An aunt who spends less on her niece and nephew than her own children receive my not be looked upon too kindly. Today’s wedding gift exchanges and financial responsibilities can force many couples with a wide social circle close to bankruptcy, and Christmas in some families has become an ill-humoured exchange of commodities.

The perfect gift is appropriate to the needs and tastes of the recipient and does not communicate a financial inequality by being too extravagant or too cheap for the occasion. Thoughtfulness is the key!

Gift cards, while they are exceedingly popular because “you can get what you really want” do not always communicate the caring that goes into selecting a gift that truly commemorates a special occasion. They have a special appeal when we do not know the tastes of the recipient or have actually been requested, but need to be given with some fore-thought.

Gift-giving resentment tends to grow when the exchange seems forced, expected or inequitable. In all families and workplaces, there are members with more financial means and emotional investment in gifts than others. A constant pressure to contribute to birthdays, showers and promotions for colleagues or loved ones can become onerous. Rarely will someone complain openly about their discomfort for fear of ostracism. More and more people are reviewing their pattern of gift exchanges to find something more socially equitable and relevant. A family discussion might be in order if presents have become a meaningless or too costly exchange. Many families are leaning toward charitable donations, even assistance to a needy family in their community, in lieu of their usual traditional exchanges.

As awareness of the environmental impact of mindless consumerism grows, so does our need to make conscious decisions about wasteful, unwanted purchases in the name of gift-giving. Creative alternatives to gift-giving are in vogue, primarily among those who have much but enjoy the process of sharing. Concert or movie tickets, donations to a favourite charity, invitations to spend time together, are all gifts that demonstrate consideration. Re-gifting of unwanted presents, popularized in a Seinfeld episode years ago, is perhaps an example of how low our appreciation of the value of the perfectly chosen gift has sunk, but can be a fun alternative to serious Christmas presents, for instance.

The most important value of any gift, regardless of the occasion, is that the giver has used thought and imagination to bring delight to the recipient. Books, special foods, or flowers are culturally and gender neutral when differing tastes and budgets are an issue.

Finally, it goes without saying that all gifts require a thank you from the recipient as soon as possible. The method of expressing thanks needs to be proportionate to the value and effort represented by the present. It is a social myth that one has up to a year to send thank you notes for wedding gifts for example! Any gift marking such a major celebration needs to be acknowledged wholeheartedly.

So learn to take back the joy of giving! Investing interest and affection in the gift you choose will bring more meaningful enjoyment to both you and the fortunate loved one, friend or colleague who deserves it.