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December 2012 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

How gift receiving affects generosity later in life

Why receiving is important for giving

When I was a child, I loved presents; getting gifts was the focal point of my birthday and Christmas. Whenever it was a friend’s birthday, my parents came to the toy store with me and helped me select a gift that would suit my friend’s personal tastes. We wrapped the gift carefully and enjoyed watching the receiver smile as she unwrapped her present, but to me, all of that was purely a formality. The real joy was the thrill of opening my own gifts and getting my own things.

I can still recall the crinkling sound of the wrapping paper, the anticipation of opening the box, and the elation of revealing some wonderful new toy that was all for me!

And that was only part of the fun — the real joy was the hours I got playing with my new toys. Most of the presents I received were cherished for years. I especially got untold hours of fun out of my dollhouses, Legos, and video games, and all of those fond memories began as soon as I tore open the wrappings. As a child I could not fathom that ridiculous adult adage: “It is better to give than to receive.” I used to snicker when I heard it, assuming that all adults were insane.

Alas, as I got older, the appeal of receiving gifts faded. I still smile if I get a gift, but the difference is that as I grew up, the thrill of presents gradually lessened. I learned there was no Santa (except for the goodwill of others — a concept I actually find more touching) and then I started to lose that “I want it, I want it, I want it!” drive that most small children possess.

As I got into my teens, I started appreciating the other aspects of the holidays more: decorating the house, touring around neighborhoods looking at lights, marveling at store windows in the city, baking, giving to charity, listening to the endless stream of Christmas songs on the radio — all the festive, yet, gift-free aspects to the season. Now, instead of presents being the focal point of the holiday, they are merely a delightful extra.

Some people see children’s love of presents as an indication of a shallow, consumer-driven culture. These same individuals view children as bratty and ungrateful, and even go so far as to discourage parents from buying their children presents. Granted, some children do behave ungratefully and they should be reprimanded before their poor attitudes develop into bigger problems. However, the majority of children are excited AND grateful to receive gifts, and should not be painted with the same brush as those who are unappreciative.

Similarly, I agree that the spirit of Christmas — goodwill — should always be conveyed to a child first and foremost. However, gift giving and receiving are integral parts of the celebration process that actually motivate children to be more generous and giving later in life.

The human mind is a complex thing, and it largely bases its processes upon past experiences. Thus, if someone recalls the joy that receiving gifts gave them in their younger years then, as adults, they are far more likely to have the desire to create the same sense of joy for younger generations. Likewise, someone who has no good memories of receiving presents is less likely to partake in the seasonal custom due to long-standing feelings of isolation, bitterness, and regret.

We learn from memory, and our personalities are molded from our experiences. A vast portion of our memory relies on the recollections of the emotional reactions that we experienced during certain events or times. In short, if we recall pleasant things about the holidays, then we are more likely to enjoy them every year.

Parents must realize that what seems like children being selfish is actually a normal foundation-laying process for what will later become the basis of selfless and giving behavior. All of that starts with making holidays special, both materially and spiritually.

Meagan Meehan is a published author of poems, short stories, novels, and articles in numerous publications. She is also a cartoonist and an award-winning modern artist. Meehan holds a Bachelors degree in English Literature from New York Institute of Technology and a Masters of Communication from Marist College.

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