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4 Reasons Why People Regift

Researchers shed light on 4 modes of regifting.

The holiday season is upon us once again. And with the holidays come not only eggnog and festive cheer but also the time-honored practice of regifting.

Gift giving is of great value to humanity. It strengthens personal bonds, lends structure to communities and unites societies. Giving gifts is a noble practice and is more compassionate and humanistic than straight-up monetary transactions.

Dean Drobot ©
Source: Dean Drobot ©

Regifting is the practice of taking a gift that you have already received and gifting it to another person. Chances are either you or someone you know will regift this holiday season.

Some people take exception to the practice of regifting, claiming that it undermines the meaningfulness of gift giving. Others, however, appreciate the practice as a means to alleviate inefficiencies in gift giving and diminish social indebtedness as well as a way to reduce the anxiety of gift selection.

Interestingly, although lots of people do it, there isn’t much research out there regarding regifting. In a 2015 qualitative study published in the Journal of Business Research, researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University highlight four types of regifting.

  1. Altruistic regifting happens when a person receives a gift and, although she likes or could use the gift, decides that it’s better suited for a friend or relative. By giving the gift to a loved one, the regifter can be a better friend or family member. Altruistic regifting is idealistic and takes another person’s feelings into consideration. This type of regifting can be spontaneous or planned. For example, if you were to receive a box of Godiva chocolates, which you find yummy, but instantly remember that your best friend just loves Godiva, you may decide to immediately regift the chocolates with the intention of being a better friend.
  2. Pragmatic regifting can be either planned or unplanned. It involves the regifting of an undesired, unneeded or inappropriate gift. This mode of regifting can help solve a problem, such as forgetting to go out and buy a gift, lacking adequate resources to procure a gift or having to select a gift for a hard-to-please recipient. For instance, if it’s Christmas Eve and you forgot to purchase a gift for your neighbor, you may decide to regift a $25 bottle of wine that was gifted to you by a client.
  3. Playful regifting is more expressive and serves to entertain and build ties in the community. Rituals often develop around this type of regifting (think Secret Santa or White Elephant). For example, family members may regift an ugly holiday sweater as a gag and for a laugh. Gifts that are regifted playfully can lose their utilitarian value and instead take on a symbolic value. In other words, the ugly sweater may never be worn but instead symbolizes a running good-natured joke.
  4. Retaliatory regifting is antagonistic in nature. It can be done for several reasons. First, the regifter may not be grateful to the original gifter. Second, the regifter finds the gift incongruent with their self-identity. Third, retaliatory regifting can be used to express dislike for a person, dislike for the gift itself or dislike for the occasion calling for gift giving (bah humbug!). For example, if you were to receive a purple scarf for Christmas from your sister—who knows that you hate the color purple—and you turn around and regift this same scarf back to your sister for her birthday, this would be an example retaliatory regifting.

On a final note, some people regift more than others. Based on the frequency of regifting, regifters can be categorized as one-time-only, average or serial regifters. Ostensibly, a serial regifter could engage in different modes of regifting. For instance, he may usually regift in a pragmatic fashion but occasionally regifts for altruistic reasons.

More from Naveed Saleh M.D., M.S.
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