Follow-Up: But What I *Really* Wanted to Say…

Yesterday’s post about gifts wasn’t really at the crux of it, but it’s the stuff I needed to think about in order to get to the crux.

Two things:

1. Most everyone loves giving the right gift to someone. The whole process is very satisfying—the inspiration of the idea, choosing the gift, anticipating the person’s reaction, watching him or her receive it. I have had these experiences and they are wonderful. And only the most curmudgeonly person would say that we should forgo that experience to remain somehow pure in this overconsumptive, acquisitive world we live in.

But what do you do when you don’t have the right gift? That’s really the heart of the matter. Do you just buy whatever? Do you get a gift card? Do you write a beautiful letter? Do you make a thoughtful donation in the person’s honor? That place—when inspiration doesn’t come—is when the calculations start to figure in—dollar amounts and expectations and appearances. And that to me is the place of discernment, the interesting spiritual place of self-awareness.

2. Evidence suggests that experiences make us happier than stuff does. Spending money on the trip of a lifetime brings more satisfaction than an extravagant purchase, because our estimation of the value of the experience goes up over time while our assessment of the worth of the object goes down.

There are many reasons for this, but I have to think that gifts we receive have a similar effect over time as do purchases we make ourselves. Would you agree? And if so, how does that impact what kind of gifts we give? I certainly want to give people things that will have the most impact.


4 thoughts on “Follow-Up: But What I *Really* Wanted to Say…

  1. anne says:

    one thing that folks have done for us when they didn’t know just what to give is to give us kiva gift certificates. then over the following years we have the joy of loaning and reloaning the same $ to help folks start businesses, buy cows, fertilize their farm, etc.

    i know this doesn’t answer the deeper question, but for our friends and family it does give them an ever-present help in time of gift-giving need to know how much we enjoy kiva-ing.

  2. Rachel Heslin says:

    The first one is the reason why I hate the obligation of gifts that Christmas has come to mean. I would much rather get something for someone on a whim, saying, “This made me think of you,” then go hunting for something that may or may not be appreciated.

    As for the second, well, for the most part, I’m not interested in gifts. Of course, there was the birthday when Shawn bought me my own piano tuning key, but just stuff? Not interested, and that does color my desire to give stuff to other people (as in, I rarely do.) Perhaps if we had more (ie. any) discretionary income, I might see things differently, but for the time being, I’ve turned off my accumulation gene and don’t see a need to give unto others because I’m “supposed” to.

  3. Roy Howard says:

    I wish I knew the answers to the gift giving questions. I”m a lousy gift giver because I get all tangled up in trying to find the right gift. In the end the gift becomes more about me than about the Other. And I don’t like that.

    My wife and daughters are great about this and have helped me to be much more free. We’ve come to a good place as a family, but I still wish I were a good gift giver. Alas.

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