The Art of Giving Good Gifts

alex atkins bookshelf cultureEveryone is familiar with the age-old adage that it is better to give than to receive. Each holiday season, driven by this spirit of generosity, millions of people rush to the malls, battling the cold, the crowded parking lots, the long lines, and the frazzled retail workers in search of the perfect gifts. Too often, shoppers dismiss the recipient’s wish list altogether, thinking “I don’t want to be predictable; I want to get him or her something really special.” (And only the very daring gift-giver will forego the gift receipt!) In other words, the goal of the giver is to find the gift that will really surprise the recipient at the moment the gift is unwrapped — the big reveal. On another level, the giver wants to impress others with their cleverness. However, according to researchers at the Tepper School of Business and Indiana University Kelly School of Business, that strategy, albeit well-intentioned, often backfires. Lead researcher Jeff Galak explains: “What we found was that the giver wants to ‘wow’ the recipient and give a gift that can be enjoyed immediately, in the moment, while the recipient is more interested in a gift that provides value over time. We are seeing a mismatch between the thought processes and motivations of gift givers and recipients. Put another way, there may be times when the vacuum cleaner, a gift that is unlikely to wow most recipients when they open it on Christmas day, really ought to be at the top of the shopping list, as it will be well used and liked for a long time.” Alas, the paradox of gift giving!

The researchers highlighted three common gift-giving mistakes: 
1. Giving a recipient who provided a gift wish list an unrequested gifts in an effort to surprise him or her (like novelty gifts, for example the lamp leg featured in A Christmas Story)

2. Purchasing material (tangible) gifts that will be immediately well-received rather than experiential gifts (intangibles like restaurant gift certificates or movie tickets) that well be more appreciated at a later time

3. Providing the recipient with a letter acknowledging a donation made in his or her name; however, as Scroogelike as this sounds, the recipient would have actually preferred a tangible gift (Bah Humbug!)

But fear not, the intrepid researchers wrapped up some wonderful gift-giving advice and tied it off with a bow for those who seek to become better gift-givers this holiday season. And what is the secret? Well, in a word — it is this: empathy. Galak elaborates: “We exchange gifts with the people we care about, in part, in an effort to make them happy and strengthen our relationships with them. By considering how valuable gifts might be over the course of the recipient’s ownership of them, rather than how much of a smile it might put on recipients’ faces when they are opened, we can meet these goals and provide useful, well-received gifts.” So, this holiday season, spare the recipient from standing in long slow-moving gift return lines and give the gift that keeps on giving — a present that will be enjoyed over time — versus the short-lived surprise present (aka the “gotcha gift”).

Read related posts: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia
The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Carol
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”

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