Self | Relationships
Why So Many People Botch Gifts
Look, my expectations were already low. It was the Secret Santa Christmas party at the office. We were at a conservative trucking company and sitting around the conference room table. A big cluster of gifts sat across from me. One of my coworkers had already received a Hilary Clinton nutcracker. I wasn’t expecting a new BMW.
Finally, it was my turn. They slid a big vertical box in front of me. I opened the top and pulled out a huge leg lamp, just like you saw in A Christmas Story. It generated a room full of laughs and was surely funny. But there was absolutely nothing I could do with this 4 foot tall monstrosity. I got home, stared at it and sighed. My girlfriend walked in and said, “If you think that is going in our window, you are nuts.”
She had nothing to worry about. Hideous mesh leggings went all the way to its upper thigh, only to reveal a bulbous light. Not even a brothel would want this thing.
Fortunately, I had a gift receipt. In America alone, 10% of gifts are returned each year, totaling $42 billion in value. Most of these presents weren’t gag gifts or failed Secret Santa attempts. They were genuine gifts— that turned out poorly and, in some cases, hurt people’s feelings. A bad gift can make you wonder if a loved one even knows who you are.
The central mistake in gift giving
There’s a proven disconnect between gift givers and receivers. During one study, givers chose between a gift card to an expensive Italian restaurant that’s far away from the recipient, or to a quality restaurant nearby. They consistently chose the far away option. Meanwhile, the receivers said they preferred the nearby restaurant.
Why the mistake? Givers often focus on the moment of gift opening. We prize the reaction and seeing their excitement, over the actual utility of the gift.
Sometimes, we choose right but downgrade the present with our behavior. I knew a present I bought was a great gift, but I got too excited and built it up in the weeks beforehand. I told her how amazing the present would be. In the end, she surely liked it, but I deflated the…