“The only gift I have to give, is the ability to receive.
If giving is a gift, and it surely is, then my gift to you is to allow you to give to me.”
Ok. It’s getting close to Christmas and gift giving ‘crunch time.’ That said. Let’s talk about giving gifts.
Suffice it to say most of us suck at giving gifts. Sure. On occasion we get lucky and give that one spectacular gift that makes someone’s eyes light up and you know you have knocked it out of the park. But. The harsh truth is that with gift giving most of us schmucks focus on that one dumb luck moment where we got it right and conclude ‘I am a good gift giver.’
No, no, no. No. You are not.
In fact. Research has been done which shows how bad we suck at gift giving. A research study <noted below> states that being extremely thoughtful <see: over thinking> with regard to gift-giving is not a good thing to do when choosing presents that the recipients will actually enjoy.
It is actually called “over individuation.”
<what a bad word … only a researcher could have made it up>
In other words – being thoughtful is bad.
University of Cincinnati researcher Mary Steffel got some pre-Christmas publicity for a study identifying a hazard she called “over-individuation”, i.e., the more we try to tailor a present precisely to a recipient, she and her co-author Robyn LeBeouf concluded, the more we’re at risk of choosing something that person might hate.
So while we strut around proudly stating how thoughtful we were having given some random seemingly unique thoughtful gift and how much pleasure we gain from giving the recipient joy & happiness … its bullshit.
Yeah. Sorry about that. It’s all about our pleasure <yup … insert Scrooge image next to my name>.
“Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not the merits of who receives them.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Research also clearly finds that, faced with the job of buying gifts for multiple people, we focus more on thinking of ourselves as good givers <as we exert incredible care & effort into selecting the unique perfect gift for each recipient> than on giving people what they actually want.
Shit. How bad are we? We even screw up giving gift cards. Yup. How? Well, research show that people really prefer cards they can spend on almost anything.
Whew. How could we over think this? Well. Givers prefer giving more specific cards. We get excited and go out and research their favorite hard to find specialty store, drive to it and get ‘that special gift card’ all with good intentions in that we know they love the store.
Uhm. But, remember, Receivers prefer a gift card which gives flexibility <insert ‘shit’ here>. The harsh truth for we schmucks who over think giving gifts is we are focused mainly on feeling like accomplished givers than actually giving people what they want. One last thought on how badly we suck at gift giving before I get to some thoughts on how to choose gifts and how to better understand how we think about gift giving.
An economist named Joel Waldfogel wrote a satire piece called The Deadweight Loss of Christmas which compared how much people spent on Christmas presents with how much the recipients would have paid, with their own money, for those gifts. Sadly he concluded that gifts are worth somewhere between 10% and a third less, on average, to the people who get them than the people who give them.
His solution? Give cash. It is the only gift that you can be certain both parties will feel is worth exactly the same.
Anyway. The real point of that is that we suck at gift giving because we suck at knowing what someone feels/thinks/believes when they receive. We know what we give … well … kind of we do. tangibly we are sure, but intangibly we have created this thoughtful myth in our heads which we invariably <and insanely> attach to the gift.
“I know what I have given you … I do not know what you have received.”
Ok. To be honest. All this research may truly miss the point of Christmas gift giving by focusing solely on the utility of the present itself to the recipient. We Christmas-believers understand the real point of holiday gift-giving is the symbolic value of the exchange.
Well. We have to believe this.
We have to to get into our heads that it doesn’t matter if the perfectly appropriate gift you spent gobs of hours selecting for the recipient ends up giving them pleasure. You have to hope that what matters is you’re demonstrating your feelings for them – something that, with some luck, gives them a different and perhaps higher form of pleasure, even if the horrible sweater or the hand made crooked stool or the black light Elvis painting goes unused.
That said. We need to understand the research suggests one very simple fact … we typically have to make a trade-off when gift giving. With each gift we decide whether we’re going to try to maximize its value as a symbol of our relationship to the recipient or to maximize the pleasure that the gift itself could deliver.
Ok. My head hurts and I want to return every gift I bought.
Now that research has shown we suck at gift giving I will lean on my favorite thinkers, the TopModels guys <Mikael Krogerus & Roman Tschäppeler>, who have clarified gift giving in terms of how to think about it as well as how we think about it.
First. How to think about gift giving … let’s call this section: Gift giving 101.
Gift giving part 1.
The diagram are self explanatory and creates a simple guide to gift giving. TopModels called it The Esquire Gift Model: How much to spend on gifts.
In their words …
Gift giving is something of a minefield.
A cheap or impersonal gift can make the recipient feel undervalued and create an awkward situation for both the giver and receiver. This model has two axis:
– How long have you known the person to whom you are giving the gift?
– How much money should you spend on the gift?
Two Rules of Thumb
Being generous beats being miserly. In other words … don’t be misled when you hear ‘that really wasn’t necessary.’>
Think best. As Oscar Wilde said …”I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”
If you are a visual person.
This diagram helps walk you thru buying a Christmas gift for someone but you are not sure how to judge how much you should spend or if you should buy anything at all.
This model is from The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking by Mikael Krogerus & Roman Tschäppeler
Oh. And a bonus guide for you.
– Gift giving 101a.
This next diagram is also quite self-explanatory. This is a situational, contextual gift guide. It is based on … uhm … Guilt.
I included this just in case you have screwed up in any way toward a possible gift recipient and you need some help on what to do.
This is about how we actually think about gift giving. Whew. In this one it becomes more complex adding in some dimensional variables. You would think gift giving is a simple ‘cause & effect’ type linear thought process. Nope. You would be wrong. This is actually called ‘The Double Looped Learning model”.
– Double Loop Learning Model
The Single Loop
The first loop involves formulating a strategy, executing it, and then doing the same provided outcomes from the first iteration of the loop.
<note: outcomes might be intended or unintended and can impact the person in the loop or people outside of the loop>
The worst case scenario here is that the same action is repeated over and over and over – producing undesirable outcomes just as many times over.
The Double Loop
The second loop involves a governing variable; a control introduced for observation. The control is then used to adjust the actions and strategies to produce more intended outcomes – or outcomes that match your variable.
Situation: It is Christmas.
Buy a gift
Buy an expensive gift
Buy a cheap gift
Don’t buy a gift
Eat a cookie
Consequences of each strategy:
Very happy, but your dog’s hip operation has to wait.
It’s the thought that counts, and the couch is waiting.
Have you met the couch yet?
Happy. The person might not be … but you definitely are.
At this point you’re in a single learning loop. A double learning loop would introduce controls, or variables, or values.
You love the gift receiver … and hate the couch.
The dog played a major role in last Christmas <in a good way>.
You promised you’d take a trip someplace warm one Christmas.
The gift receiver hates celebrating birthdays because it makes them feel old (er) … and you gave them a huge gift last birthday. <yup … that can factor in ….>
You’ll quickly see that introducing controls and matching them with the consequences will almost indisputably change your actions.
If you see this, you see the double learning loop.
<This model is from The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking by Mikael Krogerus & Roman Tschäppeler>
There you go. To summarize.
1. We suck at gift giving
2. This is proof we overthink everything <and overthinking simply makes anything worse>
3. We can’t get out of our own way <thinking>
5. Gift giving is dependent upon multiple variables and is complex <which is a great excuse for sucking at gift giving>
6. Double Loop Learning is at the root of all our shitty gift giving.
7. Don’t overthink and eat a cookie <it is all about your own pleasure & happiness>
Happy shopping and have a Merry Christmas.