Did you know that the types of gifts you choose for others can reveal insights into your personality — and can actually impact the quality of your relationships? Taking a moment to reflect on your giving style can help you approach your holiday gift list with intention, adding greater meaning to the holiday season.

What are your attitudes around gift-giving?

The way you feel about gifts (both giving and receiving them) is rooted in many sources, from childhood memories and family tradition to cultural influences, including the media. If you strip away the pre-programmed messages about gifts, how do you really feel about giving and receiving? Do you enjoy selecting gifts for others, or do you consider it a chore and a budget drain? Do you savor the process, or race to the finish line as quickly as you can? Have you developed new traditions around gift-giving with your own family, circle of friends or office?

holiday shopping with family

Intention is the activation of your purpose through mindful priorities. —  Jody Michael

What are your gift-giving goals?

Is gift-giving an obligation, or an opportunity to express appreciation, warmth and love? Maybe some people on your gift list fall into the former category and others into the latter. Do you like giving cash or gift cards because you enjoy passing the purchasing power onto the recipient — or because it’s a fast way to cross “buy gifts” off your to-do list?

emotions of gifts

Gifts are often laden with emotion, some positive, others less so. What emotions do you want your gifts to elicit? One client, “George,” once relayed this story to me:

“I’ll never forget the year my parents bought me my first hockey stick. I had been begging them to let me play for years, but they always had an excuse—I wasn’t old enough, it was too expensive, the sport was too dangerous. And then, one Christmas morning, when I was 9 years old, that hockey stick was under the tree. I not only had my parents’ permission to play, I had the coolest, sleekest hockey stick around. Thirty years later, it’s one of my most prized childhood relics — and remains a decorative fixture in my basement!”

Clearly, George’s parents gave a lot of thought into that gift, which continues to pay dividends to this day. Of course, as we all know, gift-giving scenarios aren’t always so poetic, as “Valerie’s” story illustrates:

“One year, I made the mistake of buying my daughter a vacuum cleaner as a holiday gift. She was so offended, that she ran into the other room in tears. To her, the gift conveyed my disapproval in her housekeeping abilities. That wasn’t my intention at all. It was an expensive, technologically-advanced vacuum that I had bought for myself a few months prior; I loved it so much, I went out and bought one for my daughter, too. Talk about a ‘miss!’

While you have no control over how a gift is perceived by its recipient, as in Valerie’s case, becoming more intentional in your choices can increase the chances that a gift will be a hit rather than a miss.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

What kind of gift giver do you want to be?

Just as you take on different personas in your various roles in the workplace, in the community and at home, your gift-giving style may also be multi-faceted. Do you recognize yourself in any of these types of gift-givers – or in the kind of gift-giver you’d like to be (or not be)?

  • The Thoughtful Gift-Giver — If you’re empathetic by nature, you likely find gift-giving a welcome, tenable challenge. You pick up on hints (especially the unwitting ones) that your wife drops throughout the year, making mental notes of the things you know she really, really wants, but won’t buy for herself. Perhaps you search out unique gift options for friends and families, discovering things they might not even know exist.
  • The Rule Follower — Your gift-buying choices are governed by shoulds and norms. You google this year’s guides to decide how much to spend on a holiday tip for your hairdresser, your cleaning help and your doorman. You buy gifts for your colleagues, boss or team member following others’ lead. If everyone else does, you will; if not, you won’t, for fear of appearing like an outlier.
  • The Matcher — If you take an eye-for-an-eye view of the world, you likely approach gift-giving through the same lens. You’re not comfortable being a giver or a taker, but being a matcher feels just right — and safe. (And it’s no surprise; although Adam Grant’s research focused on workplace culture, 56% of the respondents in his study were matchers). You give in equal value to what you get, and fully expect to get in equal value what you give.
  • The Perfectionist — You approach gift buying as if you will be graded, because in all likelihood, you are evaluating your efforts. “Good enough” won’t cut it; and you go the extra mile to find a specific item in a specific color at a specific price, even if it takes a disproportionate amount of time or energy. This self-imposed pressure can be a heavy burden to carry, but you find it a hard pattern to break.
  • The Subliminal Master — You might find that gift-giving is synonymous with the opportunity to softly suggest that someone on your gift list does something different or better. Your sister serves two-inch thick “slices” of turkey at every holiday meal, so you buy her a fancy electric carving knife.
  • The Narcissist — As is their style, narcissists give gifts, with a focus on themselves. “I want this, so you do (or will or should) want it, too.” … Or, “If I buy you a new car with a large red bow on top, it’ll make me look oh-so-good to the neighbors!”

gift giving intention

Create a Gift-Giving Intention

As in other areas of life, developing a greater awareness around gift-giving allows you to act in a way that aligns with your values and priorities. Become conscious of what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable as you select this year’s gifts. Are you anxious … excited? Why?

If you’re having trouble coming up with a gift-giving intention, it might help to start in reverse order: Think about how you want to remember (and be remembered for) this year’s holiday season. Here are a few examples.

This holiday season, I’m going to:

… choose to give in a way that elicits a particular feeling in the recipient. I want to make my husband feel pampered … my daughter feel empowered … my co-worker feel appreciated.

… give through an empathetic lens, thinking about what I might like to receive, but then pausing to consider whether my friend would also enjoy it, recognizing that everyone’s tastes are different.

… design a creative, timely gift-giving theme; for example, noticing that everyone in your circle is always complaining about feeling stressed, you give Uncle Joe a weighted blanket to help him sleep better, your wife a spa gift certificate (with an offer that you’ll watch the kids), and your best friend a one-year subscription to a meditation app.

… color outside the box, thinking of new or different types of gifts than in years past.

… focus on being thoughtful, recognizing that a gift doesn’t need to be expensive in order to be memorable, or to make someone feel special.

Intentions build the foundation for holiday success — defined by your own criteria. Approaching the holidays, including gift-giving, with intention is a powerful way to reduce stress and, perhaps more importantly, to add meaning to the season.

On behalf of the JMA team, best wishes for a peaceful, joyous and meaningful holiday season.

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