Christmas is coming, and I’ve realized that I’m pretty terrible at choosing gifts. My family was not big on celebrations or frivolous gifts. The gifts I received were always practical, bought on a deal, and/or rarely made me feel special. On the bright side, I got a lot of use out of practical gifts, and I’m not complaining.
However, in the last couple of years I’ve received some gifts that were either totally impractical or expensive. They were also well chosen and certainly made me feel special! This got me thinking: what is the difference between the gifts of my past and these gifts? How can I give great gifts like these? Of course I did some research, and this post is what I came up with.
Thinking about gifts has certainly made gift shopping more fun – I no longer agonize over it and hopefully I won’t give more crappy gifts. I hope this week’s topic helps you as you do your holiday shopping this year!
This week’s journal topic: Great Gifts
How do you give a great gift?
First, decide on your budget. This should go without saying. But since US consumer debt is $13.86 TRILLION right now, there must be a few people in the readership who haven’t learned this yet. The practical justification is that it will narrow the scope of potential gifts, and thereby making your search more efficient. The philosophical justification is the “ought implies can” principle: you cannot be faulted for not giving what you do not have to give.
Budgeting is easier said than done. For those who err on the side of extravagance, it means looking at your bank account and learning to choose gifts that don’t put you in the red. For those who err on the side of frugality, it means ensuring that the gift giving involves a small sacrifice, such as giving up a latte per week. Give what you can afford and spend up to the budget – not less.
I gave this last point a lot of thought. Admittedly, I’ve been the dollar-stretching type of gift giver and always felt a little “off” about it. I’ve now concluded that giving without sacrifice makes me miss out on the lesson that people matter more than money. By always getting a deal (even though that’s also how I shop for myself), I partially made the gift buying experience about saving money. The gift was chosen partially for the sake of the deal. In other words, the answer to “Why did you get me this bathrobe?” would partially be answered with “Because I got such a good deal on it!” rather than completely by “Because I just knew it was the right thing to buy you!”
The second step to choosing a great gift is: decide what you want the receiver to feel. Obviously, the target emotions are not anger, fear, jealousy, nostalgia, or sadness. The target emotions are the pleasant ones: happiness, anticipation, contentment, (joyful) surprise, etc. You can aim for all the pleasant emotions, or just one. Figure out the specific emotion you want the receiver to feel, based on her personality.
A strong, positive emotional reaction in the receiver is the essence of a great gift. I think a great gift always elicits a strong positive emotion. In other words, if a gift does not elicit a positive emotional reaction, then it is not a gift. For this reason, a Costco-pack of toilet paper is not considered a gift – there is no emotional reaction in the receiver. The reaction is, “…Uhhh, ok. Um, thank you?” (Unless, of course, the receiver has run out of toilet paper and has food poisoning! In that case, they’d feel surprised and relieved by the gift.)
If the gift is boring or elicits unpleasant emotions, or no emotion at all – then the “Thank you” from the receiver is likely to come from politeness, rather than gratitude. As a receiver, nailing down the target emotion makes it much easier to find the right gift.
Third, decide whether the gift should be mainly an experience or an object. There are two kinds of “stuff” that a great gift is made of: an object and an experience. A great gift must be both, but the focus is on just one. For example:
Concert tickets: the object is the tickets, but the gift is the shared experience of enjoying a show together
Earrings: the object is the earrings, but the experience is the surprise of opening the box and how special she feels wearing them and receiving compliments from other women
The question to ask yourself is after figuring out the target emotion is: does this person prefer experiences or things?
If the receiver prefers objects, then a great gift will be primarily the object itself: functional, expensive, something that she wouldn’t normally buy for herself, or something unique and interesting. The secondary part of this gift is the experience, so choose the right presentation. The right timing, wrapping, and heartfelt card will add “experience” and turn this well-chosen gift into a great gift.
If the receiver prefers experiences over objects, then she’ll enjoy a gift that somehow transcends space and time. What the heck does that mean? you ask. It means that the primary gift is the meaning it transmits – there’s something you can’t touch, bottle, or hold, but you can experience it. Here are some examples of experience gifts:
A carefully planned date night: solidifies human connections and relationships
Concert tickets: makes a memory
Book or journal: thought-provoking or reveals truth
Beautiful object for her home or desk: brings the ideal into reality
23&Me genetic testing, a vacation or a spa treatment: helps her reconnects with herself
An expensive accessory or clothing: prompts her to imagine new possibilities for herself
The gift is functional in delivering a non-material result. The function is not in the object itself. These are just a few ways to give an experience.
So here you have it, the three considerations you can start with that will guarantee a great gift! Happy shopping!
- Are you good at giving gifts, or is there room for improvement?
- Do you like to receive gifts? Why or why not?
- What was the best gift you ever received? Describe the gift itself, as well as practical function and what it meant to you (transcendent meaning).
- What was the best gift you ever gave and to whom?
- What do you think made it a great gift?
- Some people think that experiences are better gifts that objects. Do you agree or disagree?
- Choose one person in your life. Could giving a gift improve the relationship? How would it make them feel?
Exciting Giveaway: Follow this blog using your email address or leave a comment below with your answer to any of this week’s questions and you’ll be entered in a Christmas giveaway for a $20 Amazon gift card – so you can give a great gift to someone this year! Draw date: December 4th, 2019. Winner will be announced in next week’s post!