I have a problem with gift buying. Let me rephrase that. I love gift buying, but when I engage in that most blessed of activities, I sometimes run into problems caused, as usual, by my brain. My brain is good at a lot of things, but thinking is not one of them. It likes to do things without thinking, because, well, it’s just easier that way, right? But when giving a gift, you need to put some thought into it. And not just rational thought; you need to use some empathy.
I can’t tell you how many times I almost bought the wrong gift for someone this holiday season. This is because my brain works in this way:
THOUGHT ONE: That is the coolest, bestest, most awesomest thing I have ever seen! It is clearly most desirable among all gifts!
THOUGHT TWO: That person is the coolest, bestest, most awesomest person I have ever met. I love them so much and they deserve the best gift in the world!
THOUGHT THREE: Doesn’t the best person ever deserve the best gift ever?!
THOUGHT FOUR: I should give my wife an autographed photo of Stan Lee for Christmas!
And this is how I get into trouble. My wife does not want comic books, or a Playstation 4, or a subscription to Hair Club For Men for Christmas. She wants things that she thinks are awesome. And on a very basic level I know this. So for instance I know that she likes coffee, even though I think it tastes like the black death in a cup, so I went over to the coffee aisle looking for a special drink that she might enjoy. There were plenty of holiday coffees available, so I looked at all the limited time only beverages and picked out the one that sounded the best to me. Got that? That sounded the best to me! What was I thinking?! Frosted Sugar Cookie might sound like the best option in the world to someone who also enjoys cotton candy Pop Tarts, but my wife doesn’t like overly sweet drinks. She drinks unsweetened iced tea for goodness’ sake, and in her coffee she gets cream, no sugar! Why would I think that the absolute over-the-top sweetest coffee would be what she might enjoy?! Because it’s what I would have chosen for myself, that’s why.
To really give that perfect gift requires both thought, and empathy. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine that they are picking out the gift for themselves. You must recall all of their habits, passing comments, wistful glances into shop windows, and overall selection patterns to be able to really understand what kind of gift they might like. And even then you might get it wrong. We can’t ever truly be inside anyone else’s head, and every person has glaring anomalies in their likes and desires that seem totally outside of their personalities. There are certainly things that, given my general preferences, I should hate, and yet I love. My wife almost fell out of the car a few weeks ago when I ate a Fig Newton, since I should clearly hate them and she had never seen me eat one. But I like them. Who could have guessed?
I know that the gift giving season has ended, and the gift returning season has begun, but as you head back to the stores with your receipts in hand, wondering how on Earth your uncle who loves fishing could have imagined that you would have liked a singing bass mounted on your wall, just remember that they wanted to get you something great. And maybe you gave a few people some things that were more up your alley than theirs. And next year, my wife is getting the eggnog coffee.