The origins of gifting
There are many occasions in a year that call for gift giving: Christmas, Birthdays, Valentine’s Day – and for the people you love the most, you don’t need an occasion!
Gift-giving exists even in the animal kingdom; for example with Gentoo penguins who try to impress a mate by searching for the most flawless pebble they can find and offering it to their partner. Gift-giving seems like a natural instinct, something you do to express affection for someone else. But have you ever stopped to wonder where this even practice comes from, how far back in history does it go, and why human beings across cultures participate in this ritual of gift-giving?
The ancestry of gift-giving
Some research suggests that gift-giving goes as far back to our cavemen ancestors, whereby leaders would give gifts to tribe members as a way of celebrating their accomplishments. Back then, gifts were probably keepsakes like teeth and stone.
Ancient civilisations also gave and exchanged gifts, and the ancient Egyptians (who lived around 3100 BCE) are often credited as having created the practice. As many archaeologists and Egyptologists have reported, ancient Egyptians were often buried with their ‘gifts’, for example offered by members of their family to be entombed with. Offering gifts was often a plea to the Gods, with hopes of being blessed with favourable life conditions. Ancient Egyptians also gave gifts to their pharaohs who were both their political leader and religious leader, and was considered a ‘middle man’ between God and people.
Gifts in ancient Egypt might have taken the form of jewels, precious metals like gold, or even sometimes animals.
There is also evidence to suggest that the ancient Greeks also gave and exchanged gifts as a societal and religious practice. Archaeological evidence from ancient civilisations like the Greeks and Romans showed that wealthier members of society would sometimes even ‘gift’ their community with funds to build public facilities; kind of like how wealthy modern-day benefactors still fund museums and cultural spaces for members of the public to enjoy.
It is better to give than to receive
Why do human beings feel a rush of emotion when receiving or giving a gift? Oftentimes, gifts are an extension of ourselves, and are a nonverbal form of showing affection.
The world’s largest mental health magazine Psychology Today says that gifts can often strengthen closeness in relationships, and even offered a few tips on giving better presents:
- Experiential gifts (such as tickets to an event) were much preferred by gift receivers as opposed to material items (such as clothing or gadgets), and
- In the choice between gifting what you ‘would like to give your receiver’ and ‘guessing what you think they would like to receive’, it turns out receivers much prefer gifts that reflect the giver’s true self, and reported a stronger sense of closeness between giver and receiver (despite the fact that givers usually prefer gifting something they think the receiver would like).
In general, the psychology behind gift-giving lies simply in the need to establish and reconfirm a connection with others, and is a symbolic act of devotion to a relationship.
These days, gift-giving is highly industrialised from Christmas to Valentine’s Day, and different kinds of gifts are more or less appreciated by the receiver, depending on individual preferences and values. However despite materialistic aspects of gifting such as the price tag, one fact remains true for any gifting process: It is always, the thought that counts.
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