The Psychology of Gift Giving - Mill Hill Schools

Head’s blog

The Psychology of Gift Giving

“Did you get any unexpected gifts at Christmas?” This was a great question I was asked last week which got me thinking outside the box.

Gift giving is a fraught business, as many of us know, and much has been written about the psychology of giving, from the classical anthropological study, ‘The Gift’ by Marcel Mauss to a more recent article on CNN (as just one example). Gifts can create an interesting dynamic between the giver and the recipient, occasionally leading to many more complex emotions than simply delight and gratitude.

For myself, I did indeed receive a number of lovely and unexpected presents from both family and indeed from pupils – for which, many thanks! Having a chance to enjoy relaxed family time combined with the chance to share edible goodies, interesting reading material, or a glass of wine is much appreciated. These are even more of a treat, given that those from school members were quite unexpected.

I also received a couple of gifts, if I can extend that term, in the shape of unexpected experiences which gave me delight. The first was the sighting of a kingfisher as I walked along the Thames in Oxford – the brilliance of its plumage combined with its elusive nature made it a real treat for me. And the further gift was the chance to spend Christmas with our 2 years old grandchild, who did indeed stand in front of the decorated Christmas tree in wide eyed wonder, experiencing this, and other Christmas traditions, for the very first time.

What can we take away from these various interpretation of gifts? I would suggest

  • Recognizing the generosity of the giver of any gift – the thought, time and care that goes into such actions
  • Keeping our eyes open to the beauty of the world around – and looking for unexpected moments of delight that can be gained from our everyday surroundings
  • Encouraging and preserving as best we can a sense of awe and wonder in our pupils so that they can maintain, as they grow up, that childhood appreciation of the world around them.