Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hierarchy of Needs: Part Two

Earlier this month, we raised the question, how do you give a gift that is truly needed, and we presented the hierarchy of needs.

In this post, we'll address the first two layers: physiological and safety needs.

Gifts that address physiological needs

At the bottom of the pyramid lie the most basic needs, the necessities without which we cannot survive for long: food, water, shelter, clothing. Someone who is deprived of these things will typically spend all available energy seeking to secure them. This is the level at which the survival instinct functions, and the other needs in the hierarchy have virtually no chance, so long as the physiological needs are pressing.

While most of our readers are unlikely to find themselves in these circumstances on a regular basis, gifts that address basic physiological needs are important. Charitable gifts often fall into this category.

Gifts that address safety needs

Think of the last time you experienced a serious shakeup and were reminded just how unpredictable life is. Perhaps you had a car wreck, you lost your job, or developed a serious illness, and suddenly you felt anything but safe. The world seemed like a dark and unstable place in which anything could (and probably would) happen.

There are any number of occasions when gifts that speak to this need may be the way to go. When a loved one is in the midst of a major life transition, you can give gifts that help them to feel safer, or reminds them that help is available when the unexpected occurs. "Safety" gifts are also appropriate for someone who has experienced an unexpected setback, such as divorce, death of a loved one, or loss of a job.

When I was 22 and moving to a sketchy (but cheap) neighborhood in a new city, my brother gave me a pepper spray keychain. Thankfully, I never had to use it, but it did remind me that I was not helpless in the face of danger. A nurse I know makes up first aid kits to give to kids in her family who go off to college. She includes a thermometer, cold medicine, band-aids, and most importantly, her phone number for medical questions. Car safety kits and prepaid calling cards for emergencies are other possibilities.

Notice that in these first two levels of need, we aren't necessarily talking about gifts for occasions, like birthdays (though graduations are perfect opportunities for safety gifts). Sometimes the best opportunity for a gift is when it's not expected, but definitely needed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Non-Materialistic Gifting: 3 Strategies

In last month's post on the Essential Rules of Modern Gift Giving, asserted that gift giving is not a materialistic enterprise. 

Of course, anyone who watches TV within 2 months of the holidays might find it hard to remember this rule. Retail stores have done a wonderful job of convincing us to spend more and more with subtle tactics. Notice, for instance, if you shop online, that many sites have a gifts section, and that some divide them into categories by price. It used to be common to find an "Under $10," but increasingly, it's more like "Under $50." When Under $50 is the lowest category, the implication is that surely no one would be looking for a cheaper gift than that... right?

Well, we disagree. As we also said in last month's post, the value of the gift is according to its worth to the recipient, not its price.  To keep that in focus, we suggest 3 strategies for non-materialistic gift giving.

1. Set a Price Limit

If you're doing a gift exchange with friends, try setting a price limit ahead of time. While this can help keep gift giving budget-friendly, that's not the real benefit. When you're forced to stay under a particular limit (and this works especially well if the limit is pretty low), you have to get creative. You will automatically begin thinking of ways to pick something that will be of more value to the recipient than what you actually pay for it. 

Example: I have a price limit arrangement with one good friend around birthday gifts. Last year she gave me a set of "secret message pens" from a toy store. My brother and sister-in-law were visiting me for my birthday, and we had a lot of fun writing secret messages like we were little kids. It was a great gift for under $10.

2. Give Symbolic Gifts

As we've said before, gifts mirror to the recipient something about the kind of person you think they are. Be conscious of that. Find something of symbolic importance, rather than monetary value. Often it's the symbolic gifts that wind up being lifelong favorites. 

Example: In the movie Pan's Labyrinth, there's a scene in which the main character draws a door on the wall with chalk and goes through it to another reality. After a conversation about the movie, a friend and mentor gave me a gift of a piece of chalk. It was one of the best gifts I've ever gotten.

3. Focus on Meaning

We spend the most on gifts when time is pressing, when we realize, at the last minute, that Mom's birthday is tomorrow, and we haven't even started looking yet. Sometimes we spend more out of guilt, or just to get a social obligation out of the way. Even when time is not an issue, we tend to think of the price question first: Is this a $20 occasion? Or a $50 one? Focusing on meaning instead of price can lead us to make better choices. That's not to say that the price question has no place in the discussion, but perhaps it should not be the first question. Ask yourself instead, what can I give this person that would convey my love and support? Where is he in his life right now, and what can I offer to let him know he is cared for? 

Example: I had a roommate during a rough and transitional year of college who I've kept in touch with ever since. A few years ago, when I found myself in a rough spot again, she sent me a care package and included an old, chipped mug from the apartment we shared that year, along with a note that read, "I just thought you could use a reminder that you can get through anything." 

We'd love to have readers ad to this list: Let us know what your strategies are for de-materializing gift-giving. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hierarchy of Needs: Part One

We all want to give a gift that is useful, something that is needed. But what is it that we really need? In general, Western civilization enjoys affluence and privilege that was unheard of a generation ago. While we may have fleeting thoughts that perhaps we need a bigger house, a better car, or a new cell phone, we instinctively know these are not “real” needs. So what are real needs? In 1943, Abraham Maslow attempted to answer this question with a theory commonly known as “Maslow’s hierarchy,” which helps breakdown what fundamental human needs are, and how we go about getting those needs met. Maslow’s hierarchy looks something like this:

This concept of needs poses a few ideas that differ from how we normally think when it comes to gifts, but it's a really useful tool to bear in mind when coming up with gift ideas:

1) It considers more than literal, physical needs.

Most of the time, when we ask ourselves, "what do I really need," we are looking for the bare necessities: food on the table, a place to live, or a source of income. But if we embrace Maslow's ideas, we admit that we also have an actual need for community, meaning, and self-development. We have a need to grow as human beings, not just to survive, but to prosper.

2) It shows us that needs are relative.

Not all needs carry the same weight. A person may not think so much about social needs if their basic physiological need for food is not fulfilled. And it's very hard to think about self-development when you're worried about actual physical safety! On the flipside, the hierarchy suggests that when a person has a measure of security as, thankfully, many of us in Western society do, other needs become pressing: love, belonging, etc.

3) It includes self actualization.

The hierarchy suggests that we have an actual need to self-actualize; to become everything we are capable of being.

This has a number of implications for gift giving. What do you get for the person who has everything? You might take a look at the hierarchy and ask yourself, what does this person actually need? Know that when you give a gift that helps a person fulfill a need, you are actually helping them move towards self-actualization. It's hard to think of a better motivation or reason for gift giving.

In an upcoming series of posts, we'll discuss the different layers of the hierarchy and the types of gifts that speak to each level of need.