Giving gifts and the Buy Nothing movement

We discuss the psychology behind why and what we give, how it's received and what its says about us. And we'll look at the growing "buy nothing" movement.

Listen 49:00
(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Why do we give gifts? Anthropologists tell us it’s an ancient ritual dating back to our earliest history. Psychologists say there’s a lot of meaning wrapped up beneath the bows and colorful paper. Gift-giving is about relationships, connection, and aspirations. And while it’s certainly fun to get a present – especially when it hits the mark – research shows that the giver gets more from it than the receiver.

This hour, we talk about the psychology of gift-giving: why we do it, why we often get it wrong and what it really means.

But first, for those who are trying to consume less, you can still give a gift without buying something new. We’ll talk about the Buy Nothing Project, a growing hyper-local gift exchange in which neighbors gift items to one another, like an old bike, a lawn mower, some clothes or a rarely used waffle iron. It’s helping some save money, declutter, connect and consume less.


LIESEL CLARK, co-founder of the Buy Nothing Project

KENNY COOPER, suburban reporter for WHYY

MARY STEFFEL, associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University

ELANOR WILLIAMS, associate marketing professor at Olin Business School at Washington University.


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WHYY, Buy Nothing takes giving and receiving to a different, more neighborly level – “What if you could immerse yourself in a community that offers generosity year-round — without expecting anything in return?

New York Times. Is holiday gift-giving really worth it? – “We are usually pretty good judges of what we need and want,” but we are not very good judges of what other people need and want. ”

BBC – The science behind giving good gifts – “It seems pretty intuitive that if you spend more, you’re going to get a better gift. It turns out that there’s no evidence that recipients are sensitive to the cost of a gift when they figure out how much they’re going to enjoy that gift,”

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