When I give gifts, I try to do so genuinely. When you look at those presents this time of year, there’s a simple test to see whether or not you’re really giving a gift.
Is the point of the gift solely for the delight, enjoyment, and pleasure of the other person?
If the answer to that question is no, it’s not a gift. Not really. This can seem a bit vague, so here’s a few practical examples.
- A few years back, my son got confused whether my parents or my sister had gotten him a gift. This upset my sister, who had sent it to him. He enjoyed the present, but she expected him to be grateful to her. That was not a gift; she was more concerned about getting affection from him than his enjoyment.
- One of my co-workers hates surprise parties. Really honestly does not like them. Her husband routinely organizes surprise parties for her. These are not gifts, because it explicitly fails to consider her desires.
- Were I to get a new car for a friend of mine, that would not be a gift. It would most likely create a sense of obligation for him, and so regardless of my intent, would fail the test.
- A self-help book, utensils, or tools (except when explicitly asked for). I think this is pretty self-evident. Sure, get these things for the people you care about – but do not try to frame them as a “gift”.
- Specialized materials. I do not buy comics-related things for a friend of mine unless I know he does not already have and would want it. For example, this year I got him artwork for his birthday from a talented, if not famous, artist. If someone has a specialized hobby or interest, and you do not share the same level of expertise, it is very difficult to get a gift instead of an automatic “return”.
“It’s the thought that counts” is so often misused around this time of year! You see, one of the most fascinating things I’ve learned is that gifts – especially to a significant other – do not have to be big, or expensive. They must, however, reflect some consideration of the other person.
That is the kind of thought that counts.
[Edit: I’ve already gotten grief from a few quarters on this, so let me clarify one of the points that came up on Facebook about it, regarding tools. I was thinking along the lines of “Here’s your new vacuum cleaner, honey, start sweeping!”. A specialized tool or a high-quality tool can be a perfectly acceptable gift for a maker. It goes beyond the “get doing chores” thing, but can step into the “specialized knowledge” field. Just as I got my friend an art print, I’ve also gotten a mixer and mixer attachments – but they were high-end stuff that was explicitly asked for. I wouldn’t get my dad tools, though, because I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what really constituted a high-end quality tool that he’d want. If I did, then that’d be a perfect gift.]