15% of the money spent on gifts are wasted.
27% of gift cards sit unused.
40% of clothes given as gifts are returned.
Obviously there is a problem here, gift givers and gift receivers aren’t coming together on what, exactly, makes a great present.
So if you give a gift to your mom are you picking a bad gift or is it her problem?
The answer is obvious. Your mom is shallow.
Gifts Are Not Food, They Are Diamonds
The fact that you got a gift is not enough.
We want gifts to function like we are giving food to a hungry person – more is more. They should be happy that they got something from you. The real picture is more complex.
In an interesting paper that I just read out of the University of Chicago participants in a research study were given different amounts of milk and asked how happy they were with it. I would think that how happy they were would just depend on how much they received, just like we expect how happy our recipients are with our gifts just depends on how much we spend on them.
In the trial people’s happiness depended more on how much other people got in the test than on how much they received. They compared their cups to the cups received by other participants and the comparison was more important than what was in their own cup.
When you are giving a gift to someone they can’t help but do the same. If you give them a gift it will be compared to other gifts that they receive at the same time, or to gifts that others are receiving (say, at Christmas where multiple people are opening presents).
It’s not your mom’s fault that she is shallow, we are all just wired that way.
What Can I Do About It?
In the past I’ve reccomended giving experience gifts to avoid some of the comparison problems but this experiment shows that experience gifts still have some comparison problems. The cups of milk were not given just to have they were given to drink.
Instead the solution suggested in this paper is to try to not be compared.
Instead of giving gifts at the same time as everyone else (at a big birthday party or Christmas gathering) can you send the gift either ahead of time or later?
For my son we have taken to only letting him open one present per day on his birthday and Christmas. He is blatant about comparing his gifts since he is three and hasn’t learned to disguise his true feelings yet.
When he opened a train and socks on Christmas day last year he literally threw the socks over his shoulder and went back to playing with the train. Kind of embarassing.
When he opened just pajamas a few days later, though, he was excited and wanted to wear them immediately. Roughly the same gift, but very different responses because of the comparison effect.
You want to be the pajamas instead of the socks.
These days it’s easy to avoid the comparison effect. Buy your gifts on Amazon and have them shipped to your recipient’s house. They will be opened when they are received instead of at a large gathering and are much more likely to be appreciated as the thoughtful gifts that I am sure they are.
Even if it’s your mother.