I love giving gifts, but I feel like my friends just aren’t gift-givers — and one in particular mentioned she feels weird with all the “just because” presents. For example, my friend loves sloths, and it’s hard not to pass up a cute pair of sloth socks or a sloth necklace if I see one. I also love giving presents if a friend has gone out of their way for me — if someone drives me to the airport, of course I’m going to pick up something for them on my way home — or if I feel they might need a pick me up. I have a good handle on my budget, and this is how I want to spend my money! So why aren’t people being appreciative?
— Don’t Want to Give Up the Gifts!
Dear Don’t Want To Give Up the Gifts,
First off, it’s admirable you’re so generous with your friends. There’s nothing wrong or weird about that. Some people show affection in gifts, while some don’t, which it sounds like you already know. And while there’s no inherent “problem” with a mismatch between gifters and non-gifters, tension can arise if you start to see their discomfort as a rejection of you.
Gift giving is a two-way street
You say these presents are “just because,” and I assume you don’t expect anything in return. You may even have said this outright to your friends! But even so, we’re wired to be reciprocal, so getting a gift and not giving one can feel uncomfortable. It sounds like your friend wants to avoid this discomfort, and she’s actually doing you a favor by telling you this.
Listen to what the other person wants
The best course of action may be to follow the wishes of this friend and steer clear of the gifts for a while. Yes, this includes birthdays and other gift-giving occasions if she doesn’t typically do gifts on these days, or has expressed discomfort at this form of gift-giving in the past. Remember: Her feelings have nothing to do with you! She may be on a strict budget, she may be a minimalist, or she may hate the process of selecting a perfect present.
Find people who have the same POV as you
So how do you handle that urge to gift? A few ways: Of course, you could channel that urge into giving to others — perhaps by connecting to a family in need through an organization and shopping through their wish list. You could also channel that urge into a side hustle — if you’re adept at picking the perfect present for any occasion, why not tout your services and be paid for it?
You could also just be the go-to gift selector for your friends and family. Or you could look at your friends and family, and pick out a few who are gifters just like you. Chances are, they would love the reciprocity of back and forth present-offering, and may delight at your “just because” finds. Ultimately, gift giving should make both the giver and the receiver feel happy, so right now, it sounds like you may just need to do some hunting for the right person to truly enjoy your generosity.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.