What is a gift?
Webster’s defines a gift as:
1 : a notable capacity, talent, or endowment
2 : something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation
3 : the act, right, or power of giving
Let’s focus on the second definition. This is the one we use when we talk about presents, birthdays, Xmas and so on.
We buy gifts for mother’s day, father’s day, anniversaries and Valentine’s day. In fact, it seems like gift giving has become a major part of our lives, especially within a marriage.
I’m told I should buy her a tennis bracelet for mother’s day (she doesn’t even play tennis), a new Lexus for Xmas (she’d kill me if I spent that much of our money without telling her) or sexy lingerie for Valentine’s day (which is probably more a gift for me than for her). Everywhere I turn I see advertisements for what I should buy my wife and when, but with all this noise I think we’ve lost track of what gift giving is truly about.
So let’s take gifts back. Let’s reclaim them from Hallmark and Lexus and bring them back to what they really used to be.
Gifts can truly be a wonderful thing that builds memories and a strong relationship.
First, No Obligations
When you give a present, do you expect something in return? Are you giving these roses because you want forgiveness? Are you giving this box of chocolates because you want sex? Are you giving this iPad because you want a gift of equal value in return?
If so, you’ve left the realm of gift giving and entered the realm of economic exchange.
You’re saying “I will give you this if you give me that”. You may not be saying it in those words but you may as well be.
Please note that I’m not saying this behavior is wrong, only that it doesn’t qualify as gift giving. Mutually beneficial exchanges are a strong part of every relationship but I urge you to be honest about what you want and when you want it.
A present doesn’t carry any obligations with it. A present doesn’t put the receiver in debt to you. It doesn’t make the receiver feel like they owe you anything and it shouldn’t be given with the thought of “I’m giving this because I expect something in return.”
Give gifts freely, not because you feel obliged or because you want the other person to feel obligated in return.
A gift should be something the other person wants.
And when I say wants, I really mean that.
Something you think the other person should want doesn’t count.
Something you want the other person to use doesn’t count.
You cannot force your preferences on your spouse or they’ll resent you for it. Not sure what I mean? Let me give you a few examples.
A woman will buy her husband an item of clothing because she thinks he’ll look great in it. However, he didn’t really need that item, nor does he want it. Result? He’s forced to lie to her about liking this present, he’ll wear it once, resent it and never wear it again. She’ll be annoyed with him for not telling her the truth initially, even though he saw no way to do so without hurting her and off we go into a horrible argument.
A man buys his wife a present of some exercise equipment that he thinks she could really benefit from. His wife gets annoyed. Is he implying that she needs exercise? He gets defensive, she gets even more hurt and again, off we go into a horrible argument.
What do both of these examples have in common? In both cases the spouse bought a gift that they wanted their partner to have, not a gift that their partner wanted. In other words, they’re trying to force their preferences on their partner.
But how do we figure out what they really want?
All it takes is listening.
My wife told me she feels cold when she exits the pool after swimming laps. Perhaps I should buy her a warm, plush towel or a swim parka. I told my wife in passing how much I enjoyed working on the fence with her dad. So she went out and bought me a beginner’s book about wood working. See how that works?
Pay attention to what they say especially when they’re describing a problem they’re facing or something they wish they could do. Now think of presents that could help them solve the problem or perform the activity they described. If you listen to your partner you’re going to get dozens of these gift ideas every month, more than enough for every occasion.
Finally, Meaning and Memories
The best presents are the ones that have meaning and memories associated with them. In other words, they’re not just things that you gave one another, they’re also special because of something you did or said. They may even remind your partner of a special time or event.
You can accomplish meaning in one of two ways.
First, you can try to buy a gift that’s already associated with a memorable event. For example, my wife and I honeymooned in Croatia. Perhaps I can buy her a Croatian piece of art for her birthday? Or maybe I can get a framed picture of us on the Croatian Island of Hvar?
If I want something a bit more casual, I can buy some of the Croatian cheese we really enjoyed on our trip. All of these presents are strongly associated with a really fun and meaningful time and she’ll be reminded of that time when she sees them.
However, I can’t always buy her Croatian knick knacks and she does want that swim jacket… So how can I take mundane things and make them meaningful?
Easy, I can figure out a way to personalize either the gift giving or the gift.
For example, I can have a cute little “In case I’m not around to keep you warm” embroidered on the inside of the jacket. Alternatively, I can surprise her by waiting on the side of the pool, jacket in hand for her to come out. Either way, that jacket just became associated with more than just keeping warm after swimming. Now it’s associated with how much I love her.
Bottom line, ignore all the TV commercials and remember the following:
- Give because you want to give, not because you want something in return
- Listen to what they’re saying and give them something they want, not something you want them to have
- Make it meaningful by buying something already associated with a good memory, personalizing the present or by creating a good memory when you give the gift
If you follow those three guidelines, you’re going to do just fine.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find a website that sells Croatian cheeses…
Gal Josefsberg is a blogger, author, dog owner, husband and entrepreneur. He blogs about personal fitness at 60 in 3, self improvement at Equally Happy and he recently launched a website dedicated to helping men and women find good present ideas for each other called Diamonds or Dogs. He’s not a professional anything, nor does he wish to be.