Can I have it on paper, Santa?

Should he heed the latest American Pulse Survey, Santa could save himself the yearly herniative trek around the world, his famous red carry sack could be replaced by a laptop or smart phone.

52% of Americans asked would rather receive a gift card or cash. The reason, they say, is that they do not like the gifts others chose for them. Many of these also find it a hassle to return unwanted gifts. According to Irish website Gift Voucher Shop 46 per cent of shoppers are stressed about Christmas shopping, with 33% saying their biggest worry is not finding something suitable. American Express Gift Cards’ own survey finds that Holiday Shoppers Plan to Spend Nearly a Quarter of Gift Budgets on Gift Cards.

The exchange of gifts preceded retail and exists as a long-established social practice. Marcel Mauss, the granddaddy of French anthropology, dedicated an important piece of research to “The Gift, forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies” (1954) where he argues that gift-giving is used to show the giving person’s generosity and garner respect. Conversely, the person who receives the gift shows respect for the person who offered it.

In other words: gift giving seems to exist for the benefit of the one who gives the gift. This explains the frustration among generations of people who had to smile in false thankfulness and offer thanks and compliments while received a gift they didn’t want or need. A gift voucher clearly turns the exchange into a win-win situation. In fact, it’s a win-win-win situation, because it includes the giver, the receiver and the retailer!

Over the years, a hierarchical model for socially accepted (even sanctioned) giving was created. The model set up handmade offerings above manufactured ones and volunteering above paid jobs. Another hierarchy involves the use of money, blood and time as offerings, where time is seen as more valuable than blood and money.

Exercising altruism (offering time rather than money, handmade offerings rather then a bought item,) people seem to enjoy various levels of “afterglow” in direct proportion to the kind and type of gift they offered.

So, forget that vase you wanted to get her, that gorgeous shirt you felt he should have, based on the ‘altruistic model’ and the American Pulse Survey, gift vouchers are the way to go this year.