Emotional Intelligence Hot Topic-

Unwanted Xmas Gifts


From finding the right gift to receiving unwanted gifts, what should be a beautiful and caring gesture of giving gifts can be a test on our emotional intelligence.

Gumtree data in 2017 confirmed more than 21 million unwanted gifts were received and judging on the 6509 items currently listed dedicated to sell ‘Unwanted Gifts’, it is still an ongoing occurrence and we haven’t even hit Xmas yet! Is giving gifts about the actual gift or is it the old saying ‘it’s the thought (or gesture) that counts?

While reports from Roy Morgan forecast that Australian’s will spend over $54.3 billion dollars (2.8% increase) this Xmas, some families are bracing for a smaller and less extravagant Xmas after a very challenging year.

Regardless of the spend, there will always be presents given that might not hit the spot. But how do we mask that disappointment on Xmas morning when we open the unwanted gift?

xmas-present-christmas-tree

For young kids, there is little masking and it falls awkwardly to their parents. For adults, it’s a plastered smile and ‘thank you so much’.



Psychology refers to the long-standing idea of facial feedback hypothesis and recent studies show when the feedback loop is disrupted this influences the emotional reaction. There is a clear link between the emotions that our Amygdala sends the physical response by the muscles in our body. If we are scared or fearful, the emotion shows on our face. We also get a rush of blood to our legs ready to run if needed. There is a physical body response for every emotion that we feel.


The disruption is created by our face displaying a different emotion than the mind is sending. If our mind is really not liking the gift and sending an emotion of dislike but our face manages to show a genuine smile, our feedback hypothesis is disrupted. The feedback loop then going from our face back through our thalamus and neo-cortex for processing then into our emotional mind challenges the emotion.

Self-regulation and empathy also support facial emotion masking. Self-regulation is ultimately the skill that is being used to disrupt the feedback loop. Once we can see past ourselves and our emotional reaction of the actual gift that empathy kicks in. We recognise the emotion that the gift giver is feeling and recalling when was the last time we felt that emotion. What was the worst thing that someone could say or do and what was the best thing they could say or do. Being empathetic no longer makes it about us or the situation and all about the emotion of the other person.

On another note, they say, Botox can decrease the severity of frustration and anger as it also breaks the facial feedback loop. 

Each to their own to get the right outcome?


3 Tips to mask disappointment on Xmas morning.

  • Agree on Xmas presents before Xmas. Are you giving them? Price limit? Funny or serious? Ask for some gift ideas if it is a close relationship.
  • Self-regulation. Prepare yourself for the gift and control the look on your face. Break the feedback loop.
  • Empathy. Don’t focus on the gift, focus on the emotion of the giver. The meaning behind the giving of the present.

Whenever anyone is giving a gift, they are hoping that they have picked well and that the receiver likes the gift.

 Be emotionally intelligent and disrupt the feedback loop, self-regulate and be empathetic.


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