Monday, August 27, 2007

On Giving Self, Not Stuff

I have issues with gift-giving.

Don't get me wrong. Few things make me happier than giving someone that perfect thing. Whatever thing it is that brings them pure, childlike joy. If I can make it a surprise, that's even better. But compulsory gift-giving for birthdays and holidays often leaves me feeling frustrated, drained and just, well...wrong.

As a society, we've wriggled our way into a mindset of always needing to give a gift, and the more expensive the better. I'm not sure if we've been worked over by clever marketers, or if we've done this to ourselves in the spirit of greed and one-upmanship, but just try not giving someone a gift on their birthday (or worse, Christmas). You won't feel right about it, and everyone else will make extra sure that you don't. So we waste countless hours and even more dollars shopping for something perfect and wondering if they'll like it, only to load people down with stuff that they don't need or probably even want. And they, in turn, do it to us. This has been plaguing me for some time - I had to stop the madness.

I was out of town for my sister's birthday. When I returned, we decided to spend a Saturday together, doing whatever she wanted to do. We planned a full day - the zoo, the aquarium, lunch in between, and whatever else we saw fit to work in. It was insanely hot. We trapsed around town all day, mostly outside, sweating ourselves down to human-shaped piles of salt. I didn't buy her a gift. Instead I gave her a full day of my life plus photos, and an experience we'll be talking about for a long time. I was concerned at first that it wouldn't be "enough of a gift". It turned out to be more than enough. We had a terrific time. She was happy, I was happy and we set a new precedent; we deemed the gift of togetherness to be not only acceptable, but even preferable to material items.

I'm not suggesting that we stop giving material gifts altogether. It is, after all, a tradition - a mainstay of American culture. I'm simply suggesting that sometimes, the perfect thing might be you.

1 comment:

  1. This is why I don't have television service at home. Advertisements always telling me what I should buy and how I should think. One of the worst recent commercials was the one where a talking light bulb was telling a lady that her husband will love her if she buys her a new HDTV. The talking bulb then proceeded to say, "he might even buy you something from over there in the jewelry department." Absolutely sickening.