gift giving

‘Tis the season for shopping and for many, the stress that comes with trying to buy the perfect gift. Stores and malls are packed with people looking to buy presents for everyone on their lists. From televisions to toys, gadgets to gift certificates, gift giving is a major component of the holiday season.

But did you know your angst over picking out the perfect present or the warm fuzzy feeling you have from giving someone a gift, can all be traced back to psychology?

According to Kathrin Hartmann, PhD, Professor of EVMS Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, there are intrinsic benefits for both those giving and receiving gifts.

“As a gift-giver you get satisfaction from seeing someone’s surprise or joy at receiving a present, and knowing that you are responsible for that emotion.” she says. "There are good feelings associated with bringing someone else joy."

Of course, some may feel a sense of pressure or even anxiety over trying to select a gift that has meaning for the person receiving it.

“There is sometimes this sense of what does the gift mean, what does it say about me or how I feel about you, and for some people, what does it cost,” Dr. Hartmann says. “There can be this unspoken pressure to tell someone exactly how you feel and think about them in this perfect present.”

Defining perfect, she says, is part of the problem.

While for some a perfect gift is one that someone really wants, will enjoy or might possibly never buy for themselves, for others, perfect may be something they desperately need.

“One year my husband and I both bought each other trash cans,” Dr. Hartmann says. “We both laughed. I guess we both thought something we needed would be the perfect gift.”

When making your list, consider all the options, she says, not just what advertisers tell you is appropriate. Also, keep in mind that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean more special or better received. According to studies, there is very little relationship between the cost of a gift and the extent to which it is liked. Research shows the best predictor of how much a gift is appreciated is the thought and effort made in choosing it.

It is important to remember, Dr. Hartmann says, there are no hard-and-fast rules for gift giving. As cliché as it may seem, it is the thought that counts. And when it comes down to it, there are other ways to show your appreciation for someone during the holiday season.

Spending time together, doing an activity together, or even just talking may be all it takes to make the spirit bright.