The joy of giving?
I spent most of Thursday evening at the Dubai Mall, fighting my way through the crowds, scouring the shops for thoughtful, useful, original Christmas gifts. And then I read this article in the New York Times, and realised that maybe I needn't have bothered. It seems that the whole gift giving process has become a rather mercenary affair. People are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to the gifts they expect from others. The simple 'joy of receiving' is apparently a thing of the past. It is no longer enough that someone has thought of you and gone out of their way to buy you a gift; it has to be exactly the right gift - preferably one that you've specifically asked for or can choose yourself. The article cites an academic study entitled Give Them What They Want: The Benefits of Explicitness in Gift-Exchange, by Francis J. Flynn and Francesca Gino, which was published in March in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The study ascertained that "people accrued more pleasure from a gift (and were more appreciative of it) if it was something they had requested. What's more, the study's subjects rated givers as more thoughtful if they gave from a wish list." The article also highlighted the fact that according to surveys by the US' National Retail Foundation, in the last five years gift cards have become the thing that most people would most like to receive from gift-givers. Just like the gift registry has become an ubiquitous part of the wedding process, made to order Christmas and birthday lists are de rigeur.I couldn't be more indignant at this news. It's like discovering that Santa doesn't exist all over again. I can think of nothing more impersonal than a gift voucher, and nothing more unseemly than pressurising my loved ones into buying me something that I think I deserve. Surely the best thing about receiving a gift is not knowing what it is - that feeling of anticipation as you wonder what lies under that tantalising piece of wrapping paper (although there was considerable disappointment in the Denman household most Christmases when I'd come downstairs and realise that, despite my pleading letters to Santa, none of my gifts were pony shaped).Equestrian-related shattered dreams aside, I absolutely hate knowing what my presents are before I open them. Call me naïve, but surely that's the beauty of Christmas and birthdays. Even if they get it ridiculously wrong, I'm still grateful that someone thought about me and invested in me, in whatever small or inappropriate way. And surely there is no greater gift than someone taking time out of their lives to try and choose something that might, even just fleetingly, bring you joy.Saying that - Santa, if you're listening, I could still do with that pony.
Published: December 12, 2011 04:00 AM