A magical synchronicity of gifts based on our needs has unfolded recently, so I can’t help but feel moved, like some sort of karma is involved.

The gifts have been given with heart and without expectation of anything in return, for example, a complete stranger overheard my enquiries at a local music store about getting my son a guitar. The next day she had tracked down my number and was calling to say she had a guitar we could have! She said it needed new strings (it was a classical guitar with steel strings on it) and that if it wasn’t suitable for us, to give it to a school.

I met with the stranger and whilst the guitar turned out not to be suitable for my son just yet, I wanted to honour the giver by fixing the guitar. I hadn’t yet decided if we would keep it, but I showed it to my son’s gorgeous guitar teacher and after our discussion, decided it would have a home with us. She insisted on restringing the guitar at no cost. Yet another unexpected warm gift that we appreciate!

These events have made me think more about life within a gift economy – a society where people share their skills, time, knowledge, information or material goods without any formal exchange.

Instead of monetary gain or bartering for something in return, gift economies rely on rewards like a sense of contribution, community, honor or prestige. The idea is that people give according to their abilities and receive according to their needs. A sense of community grows along with the knowledge that if you give, you will be known as a giver, and people will desire to give to you in turn.

As an example, I saw a post on my town’s Facebook community noticeboard that read “Would anyone like dinner tonight? I have made way too much cauliflower soup for my family! Might even have a bowl of sausage stroganoff as well. Must be picked up tonight ”. I’m not sure how many people she fed that night but everyone started leaving comments about how kind she was. She is now known as a giver and I bet someone will return the favour one day.

Yes, she could have frozen the food for a later time, but sharing encourages connection, caring, and trust that someone will share with you in the future when you need it – maybe a stranger will even become a best friend, it would seem more likely than if money was exchanged in the process.

There’s no hoarding of excess in a gift economy because it’s understood that excess can become a burden and that we’d all be better off if we shared. Wealth doesn’t come from keeping things but from the great honour and gratitude gained from giving precious gifts.

The power of gratitude also means you won’t trash your gift, you will want to care for it and use it as intended or in some other beautiful way. And, that’s exactly what I have found myself doing with my recent gifts both large and small.

So, we can reduce consumer demand, consumption of resources and waste by being more generous with our skills, time, knowledge, information and material goods – and improve our lives through our relationships with others. To get started, it can be as simple as giving someone something they need like a kitchen utensil that you have multiple of, or bras that don’t fit you anymore (which is another gift I received last month), or teaching someone how to do something.

By being more generous we can learn to live on less, depend less on money and associate it less with survival. This will help us transition from something other than our current debt based growth economy which encourages us to value our possessions more than our contributions to others and the environment.

So, shouldn’t we lead the way by giving more of our skills, time, knowledge, information and material goods to those who need it, when they need it? But just as important is to receive gifts from others for our own needs.

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10 thoughts

  1. I absolutely adore this! Friends and I do food swaps with our homegrown fruit and veggies, but it’s nice to do things just to be a nice person and help someone out. Going to try and incorporate more of this. Thank you!

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  2. I love the idea of a gift economy! It’s certainly much better to give and receive based on capacity and need, instead of the way we currently live in Western society with excess consumption and hoarding most of the year and excess giving at Christmas time.

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  3. What a beautiful blog! Thank you!

    Contemplating it further, when I give I try not to have any expectation that people will see me as a giver and someone will later return the favour. My experience is that most people prefer to notice things they don’t like about you quicker than your goodness. But maybe some of that is imagined, I just have little to prove otherwise.

    I’ve found I give a great deal more than I get but as far as I can tell, no one notices, as the giving is either tiny deeds to strangers, a one off something or, as it happens, for more regular harder giving, it has been to people who feel a sense that the world owes them something. And the disappointment that those people don’t look out for you in return creates bitterness within me. So I have learnt that if I go out of my way to clean a friend’s house and make them a meal or watch their kids for them because they are going through a hard time, I have done that because I want to, not to be helped in return, because I don’t want to feel like the world owes me something and become bitter. If I go out of my way to help multiple times and feel that person is taking me for granted and there doesn’t seem to be any recognition and gratitude for that and I can’t see them resiprocating to others, I question why I feel the need to help that person any further.

    I still love to give, knowing it has a positive ripple effect within community and this makes for a nicer world to live in and makes someone happy. I have helped some people who are such lovely people you just feel lucky to be able to give them something for no personal gain. I’m pretty lucky, my life has been wonderful, do I really need reward and recognition for what I do for others?

    There is of course an ingrained need to be part of a community and to feel secure in the knowledge others are looking out for you. If you don’t feel people care about you when you are going through a hard time, that can make you feel pretty miserable and alone. But there is something warming knowing you have helped someone else, even if help rarely comes your way. I guess I’m saying, there are givers in this world and there are takers. If a giver is always helping takers, it can be really hard. But the more givers there are, the better people will feel overall.

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    1. Thanks Lori. I really appreciate the depth of your comment, and I’ve certainly had feelings like this and experienced ‘the takers’ and the ‘I’m owed this’ people over the course of my life too. I think these issues emerge because we are still giving in a system that drums into us ‘more for you is less for me and that’s a problem because I need more to be considered successful/worthy.’ It’s easy for people to feel like they haven’t got what they deserve after they’ve spent their lives slaving away at jobs and doing all the things they’ve been told to do with the promise that they’ll have a good life, when in fact all it does is bring them debt and misery.
      I also think a lot of people don’t know how to be grateful. Gratefulness or ungratefulness is a mindset and can significantly impact our state of happiness. Luckily, we can train ourselves to be more grateful, and therefore find happiness. I think this then leads to being able to give more freely without thinking about what we might get in return.
      The gift economy is just about giving simply because you can and because someone else is in need.
      …so yes, I agree, it can be hard in our current system but overall the world would be a better place with more givers than takers. 🙂

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