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How to give the perfect gift: does the element of surprise beat out the sure thing?


A few years ago my mother, sister and I coined the term ‘gift epiphany’. At least I think we coined it. Even if we didn’t actually invent the term, over the years we’ve talked about the glory that is the gift epiphany; the moment when you suddenly realize the perfect gift to give someone.

If you are lucky enough to have a gift epiphany, you go with it; even if it is for your grandmother’s Christmas present and the epiphany comes in July… you either write it down to be purchased later or buy it then and store it in the back of your closet for months. Giving a gift-epiphany gift is a pleasure because you can be sure the recipient will be thrilled, which is an amazing feeling.

Unfortunately the gift epiphany is a fairly rare thing and you can’t force it. It is a flash of inspiration from the God of Presents, and when it is not bestowed upon you, the next best thing is to be a careful listener and to take notes during the year. If, in February, your guy casually says, “I’ve always wanted to go sky diving”, write it down and look for a groupon deal in the months to come. The notes program on the iphones has made this really easy – I have a dedicated list for gift ideas that I update all year long in order to make birthdays and Christmas as stress free as possible.

The problem, of course, is there are always people in our lives that defy even the most thoughtful gift-giver. Be it your grumpy relative you only see once a year who doesn’t seem to like anything, or your parent who already seems to have everything. My guy can be particularly frustrating because he’s big fan of immediate gratification and tends to just go get anything he really wants – this has gotten so bad that I had to ban him from any non-necessary purchases from Thanksgiving through his birthday in February.

There have been a lot of years where I’ve stressed about what to buy my family for months. I think this comes from being the daughter of one of the best gift-givers around. My mother is a natural giver and she takes her present-giving seriously. It is so important to her that I like what she gives me, every non-gift-epiphany present she gives me is something I’ve picked out. Even when we have gone shopping together,  the gift receipt is always taped to the box and she’ll tell me twice that I can take it back before the wrapping paper is halfway off. I like to tease her about this but it I actually love it. She’d rather give me something I want than surprise me and I’ll admit I prefer it as well.

Sometimes trying to come up with the perfect gift is such a chore that it takes the joy out of the entire holiday season. This is the reason I’m a big fan of the Amazon wish-list. Not everyone feels the same. I know a lot of people think the wish-list thing is tacky and greedy– that it’s basically just shopping and having someone else pick up the tab. Others complain that as the Amazon wish-list becomes more common gift giving and receiving becomes less fun. It is true that if people go off your wish-list you’re never surprised by what you’re going to get, only who is going to get it for you.

Of course, the ideal is the gift that is both a surprise and also exactly what you want. But what if you have to chose one or the other?

When it comes to getting a gift, would you rather be surprised or get something you really want?

A Zeros Before the One Poll

When it comes to getting a gift, would you rather be surprised or get something you really want?

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