The History, Psychology, and Traditions of Gift Giving

Gift giving is something one tends to think about during the holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. But did you know that gift giving is not just a human phenomenon? Keep reading if you would like to learn more about the history, psychology, and a few ways other countries participate with gift giving. Information in this blog comes from The Origins and History of Gift Giving and The History of Gift Giving.

History of Gift Giving

The tradition of gift giving is certainly not new to us. It goes back thousands and thousands of years – pretty much back to the beginning of human time. Gift giving has been a special part of all nations, cultures, and societies, making it something all humans throughout history have taken part in. In this sense, gift giving is a fundamental part of human behavior, emerging from a range of different cultural backgrounds.

Gift giving has also always been present in the animal kingdom. Our chimpanzee ancestors have been known to give food to females in exchange for potential mating or receiving favors from others. Another example is that cats will often bestow a gift on their human’s doorstep (occasionally pillow if inside cats) of their fresh “kill” whether it be an actual mouse or a toy.

The ancient tradition of gift giving can be traced as far back as cavemen. Typical gifts given among cavemen were teeth and stones, which were classed as keepsakes at the time. These gifts were widely appreciated since they could be carved into something special for the recipient, such as a necklace or other form of accessory, and could be displayed to everyone in the tribe with pride.

During the Middle Ages, valuable gifts were often food-based and were intended to be a symbol of power. If people wanted to get political or religious favors, or simply show their loyalty to the institutions, gift giving was certainly the way forward.

While gift giving among humans begun with cavemen offering simple items to prove his ability to provide for a family, the process has become an incredibly crucial and extravagant part of our lives. As we are sure you all know, gift giving is a traditional part of many occasions.

Psychology of Gift Giving

The psychology of why gift giving is so rewarding is simple; it allows people to connect. Making connections with people around us gives us a sense of purpose and feeling of satisfaction. There is an old saying “it is better to give than receive” and the psychology of gift giving backs this up.

There has been a considerable amount of research over the years into the feelings of wellbeing that occurs when we give gifts to those we care about. From as early as cavemen days gift giving has been rewarding which may be the reason it has stood the test of time. Here are some reasons as to why:

Makes You Feel Happy: Simply put, the giving of gifts can make a person feel happier about themselves as well as to the person that has received their gift.

Improves Your State of Mind: Research suggests that giving gifts may improve a person’s state of mind. If giving a gift makes you feel happier with a sense of purpose, then this may inevitably improve your state of mind.

Gives You a Greater Social Connection: By giving a gift, you are not only expressing your feelings but building a stronger connection to that person as well. Not only does the person receiving the gift feel closer to the giver, but also vice versa. This greater social connection also means an improvement in the state of being as well as overall happiness.

It is Contagious: When a person starts giving gifts, not only will the recipient become more likely to give, those around them who see this act will start giving as well. This is in part due to the release of the endorphins, which not only benefits the giver, but is also felt by those who receive and see the act of giving as well.

Gift Giving Traditions in Other Countries

Different countries and cultures have their own norms and expectations when it comes to gifts and gift giving. Here are a few examples from countries around the world.

China: There is an important gift giving tradition in China for their 2 week Chinese New Year Celebration – any gifts must be wrapped in red wrapping paper or envelopes, since the color red is known to represent wealth and prosperity. This shows that you wish good fortune to the loved ones you are giving gifts to and signifies a hopeful new year to all. In turn, the colors blue, black and white should be avoided, as they represent death and funerals. Interestingly, this is the same with the number 4. If, for example, someone was giving another money as a gift, they should not give them an amount with the number 4 in it!

Italy: Italy has a particularly unusual gift giving tradition for weddings. Wedding guests buy parts of the groom’s tie, which had been cut up into many different pieces, and the money goes to the bride and groom as a symbol of starting their new life together. It is almost like giving them a financial helping hand as they begin their life as a married couple. The guests would then keep the tie pieces as a souvenir of the special day, always helping them remember the occasion.

Japan: Children who are aged 3, 5 or 7 in Japan are especially lucky on their birthdays. Years ago, many children in Japan would pass away before reaching these ages, making it a tradition to doubly celebrate when children turn 3, 5 or 7. As well as celebrating their actual birthday, children of these ages would visit a shrine and receive sweets from a priest, meaning they get to commemorate their birthdays twice in one year.

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