When Is A Gift Not a Gift?

Gifts have been given and received for centuries. From cavemen gifting one another saber tooths and unique stones to the giving of presents to kings and rulers throughout the ages, gifts are certainly nothing new.

In fact, according to SaveMyCent.com, the global gift market is currently around $62 billion and growing strong.

A gift is something that is given to someone else without expecting anything in return – or it’s supposed to be.

However, there are times when a gift may not be a gift at all.

This can be due to a number of reasons, including the intent of the giver, the type of gift, or the circumstances surrounding the gift.

🎁 Why People Give Gifts

Gift giving is largely psychologically based, according to Ness Labs. Reasons for giving often include social bonding, cultural beliefs, and long-term satisfaction.

Gifts are frequently given for special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, weddings, wedding showers, baby showers, engagements, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and wedding anniversaries.

Some gifts are given randomly which are sometimes the best gifts of all.

🤥 Motive is Everything

The greatest gifts are wrapped in love. But what happens when they’re not? And how can you judge the intent behind a gift?

Sometimes, it’s not a matter of guessing but of knowing because actions speak louder than words.

One of the most common factors behind a gift not being a gift is when the giver’s motives are tainted which spoils the entire effect.

Some examples of ill intentions include:

Selfish Reasons

When someone gets their spouse or living partner something they themselves really want, that the other person has no interest in, there’s usually a selfish motive behind it.

Selfish intents are among the most prevalent reasons for gift giving gone wrong.


An article in Psychology Today warns of gifts given by narcissists that are given so that you think they are amazing. It is all about them, not you – they want you to attain and keep your devotion and allegiance.

While most people give you a gift because they think you are awesome, a narcissist gives so you will think they are awesome. There’s a difference!


When you get a gift to sway you to do something, feel something, or think something, it’s not a gift – it’s an object of manipulation.

The Paired Life lined it all out in an article entitled “17 Warning Signs of a Manipulator.”

Especially in the beginning of a relationship, a manipulator is apt to be very sympathetic, kind, and generous which often entails expressing love or affection with lavish gifts.

In reality, the gifting is a form of bribery for larger favors expected later on, however.


The intent of the giver is an important factor in determining whether a gift is a gift or not.

If the giver is expecting something in return for their gift, then it is not a gift.

This could be anything from a favor to a future payment, or even a thank you.

Strings Attached

Gifts that come with strings attached aren’t really gifts.

If your gift is contingent upon doing something in order to keep it, give it back…quick.


Some give expensive presents to make themselves look good.

This is especially true when gifts will be noticed by others such as at a wedding or baby shower or Christmas get together.

Grandios behavior is typical of people who have low self-esteem and are wanting to raise it by drawing attention for things such as elaborate gift giving.

💗 Great Gifts to Give from the Heart

The best gifts have heart strings, not price tags. Whether you are on the giving or the receiving end, here are some of the best gifts ever:

On the Sentimental Side

Say it with heart

Companies that specialize in personalized goods such as The Personalization Mall will engrave a title and letter to a loved on in an acrylic heart shaped sculpture keepsake.

Photo gift

One way to ensure the recipient knows their gift is all about them is to feature their photo on the present such as a puzzle, bag, or cup.

Companies like Shutterfly, Zazzle, and VistaPrint are some of the most popular options.

Handmade Gifts

Get crafty

If you sew, crochet, do woodworking or are skilled in any other crafty area, you can make a gift. If not, why not learn?


There are many slideshow programs that make it easy to make a slideshow highlighting a recipient’s life or a milestone in their life. Adding music makes it even more special.


Drawing, painting, or using any type of creative medium makes for an awesome, very personal, gift. You can do the artwork yourself or hire out the service.

Give it for Free


One of the most valuable investments that can be made is spending time with someone.

Consider having coffee, a meal, or a drink together or hanging out at the park or beach for great convo.

Be sure to focus on what’s really important – spending time together.

Services rendered

Doing someone a favor is a nice gift from the heart that costs nothing but time and energy.

From babysitting or pet sitting to raking leave or washing their car, giving someone a service is a commendable way to make them feel special.


When at a loss for a customized, free gift, why not make up some coupons the recipient can cash in?

You can include favors you’ll do, an outing of their choice, and whatever else is appropriate and heartfelt.

For more ideas on how to give gifts on a budget, see our article: Creative Ways to Give Gifts on a Shoestring Budget

True Gifts are Given from the Heart

Gifts celebrate those we love but it’s imperative that they be given for the right reasons.

If you’ve been gifted a gift that’s really not a gift, you might think twice before accepting it or at least proceed with caution.

Since you can’t change other people, only yourself, the best thing to do is to ensure your own gift-giving motives are pure.

Cheryl Jerabek
Cheryl Jerabek
Cheryl is a professional writer that has been writing ever since she could hold a crayon. She has authored over 200 fiction and non-fiction books for teens and adults (both credited and ghost-written) on a wide range of subjects. Cheryl also writes blogs and articles on various topics and themes. Residing in a small mountain community in Southwest Colorado, Cheryl draws her inspiration from the gorgeous scenery, her 2 adult children, and 3 grandchildren. She enjoys traveling, party and event planning, and hanging out with family and friends. “I write so you don’t have to,” is Cheryl’s motto.

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