Sheldon (from The Big Bang Theory) demonstrates the complexity involved in Christmas present exchanges in this funny exchange (

‘Penny, you haven’t given me a gift, you have given me an obligation’ – Sheldon

Fundamentally, if we are to give the ‘right’ present, we have to make sure that the gift not only says the right thing about:
* Who we are (A handmade bag from the Oxfam shop v Perfume from Myer)
* How we see the person we are giving the gift to (Someone who cares about less fortunate people v Someone who deserves to be spoilt)
* The sort of relationship we have (Close? Intimate? Helpful neighbour? BFF?)

but also, our gift to them has to be of a similar value to the gift they give to us – so we don’t set up an uncomfortable reciprocation debt. Aaagh!

I don’t feel I do this particularly well. I have conflicting values around wanting to be generous and also wanting to avoid unnecessary consumption/materialism. This conflict tends to paralyse me. At Christmas, I would like to just make a donation to a charity but many of my friends and family don’t seem to enjoy that as much as a carefully chosen ‘thing’ wrapped in shiny paper!

However, what I can tell you, is that spending time giving to others makes us happier for longer than if we spent the time doing something pleasurable for ourselves. So one option is to view the time we spend searching for the ideal gift for our loved ones, as time spent giving to them. I know that when it is really clear that a gift was the result of careful thought, it utterly touches my heart. Another option is to spend less time shopping and stressing, buy them something simple and then spend the time really enjoying their company.

Rachel Collis is Australian, and has been working in the area of supporting people to create rich and meaningful lives for over 20 years. On she provides suggestions about building well-being based on current research in psychology, coaching and personal development.

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