Could Gift Economy Slow Climate Change?
--Rahul Brown
3 minute read
Sep 7, 2013


Relatives recently asked me to research a few big ticket electronic gadgets to figure out what might be best for their needs. I diligently weighed the options, but instead of reporting back my findings, I simply purchased these items for them as gifts. And it feels a lot like this was not only the best thing for their needs, but the planet’s needs as well.

There’s a certain rush we get from buying a new toy. And there’s fun in playing with that new toy. The problem is that the rush fizzles and the fun gets stale faster than the toy gets truly old or broken. A huge chunk of our economy is driven by masking over the staleness and insecurity you feel about what you just bought by convincing you that buying the next thing will fill that void. And that keeps us running down what Forest Call guest and materialism researcher Dr. Sunaina Chugani call a “hedonic treadmill”.

Of course, running your heart out on such a pleasure treadmill won’t get you even an inch closer to happiness. Couple this with ‘sticker shock’ and ‘buyer’s regret’ and the paradox of choice and its not surprising that our materialistic society has up to 25% of its adults on psychiatric medication. What’s worse is that all that over-consumption is trashing the planet and putting all life on earth at risk.

Gift economy might just be a beautifully transformative option.

When I purchased these pricey gifts, I still got the rush of buying a new toy. And I generated joy in imagining my relatives enjoying these gadgets. But I’ve got no toy in my hands, and so there’s nothing to get stale. Instead, every time I think of the gifts, I remember that rush and feel a sympathetic joy that lasts a lot longer than if I had consumed something myself. The money is gone, so I don’t have an option to consume something for myself. That kind of void feels so much more fulfilling than the mainstream choice of buying for my own consumption. And ultimately, there’s a finite number of financially large gifts that I can make, so this keeps my focus on gifting smaller things with lower material footprints but equal or greater love footprints such that I spend yet more time generating and feeling positive emotions.

Consider it from my relatives perspective. They get a surprise gift of something they wanted or needed. There is no sticker shock because the price is ‘priceless’. There is no buyer’s regret because they bought nothing. There is no paradox-of-choice problem because they had no choice :-) And the process may just shift all their attention away from the staleness of fading consumptive pleasure into greater remembrance of gratitude for the gift.

A moment of gratitude stops the hedonic treadmill, slowly putting the brakes on the inner and outer rat race that leaves us empty, anxious, and unfulfilled. Collective gratitude from shifting toward gifting not only serves our basic external needs, but feeds our inner hunger for love, connection, and satisfaction. And I’d be willing to bet that this kind of joy at the micro-level translates into both less consumption and more happiness at the macro-level. That lower consumption means a slowdown in planet-trashing that drives climate change, giving all of life on earth a chance to thrive in a brighter future. What an incredible gift to give yourself, your loved ones, and all living beings!

The only problem this generates is the inevitable argument about such gifts being ‘too much’, but this is the best kind of family fight to have! I too have been the recipient of pricey and priceless gifts that were ‘too much’ and know how to win and lose on both sides of the table. May all people have the joy of fighting with their loved ones in this way! :-) 


Posted by Rahul Brown on Sep 7, 2013

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