A few years ago, Sara Aiken planned the perfect romantic Christmas celebration with her husband, Ken. She made eggs Benedict, bacon and Bloody Mary cocktails for brunch. Then the couple lounged around in their pajamas and exchanged gifts.
Ms. Aiken gave her husband a foul-weather jacket for sailing, some history books, cashmere socks and a pair of cuff links. She didn’t see any packages for herself under the tree, but got excited when he handed her a Christmas card and said her gift was in it. “I remember thinking: ‘The possibilities are endless!’” says Ms. Aiken, who is 58 and owns a pickleball paddle manufacturing company in Eastport, Md. “It could be a cool trip. A gift certificate to a spa. Or tickets to a Broadway show.’”
It wasn’t. Inside the envelope was a photocopy of the description of a class Mr. Aiken had purchased for his wife: “Marine Diesel Basics,” a course in engine maintenance.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter if we were naughty or nice. We still won’t get what we want under the tree.
And even though we’re adults—we know to be grateful for the thought and effort someone puts into giving us a gift—a bad one can still burn. We expect our friends and loved ones to understand us best. A bad gift can feel like a lack of recognition and connection. “You feel misunderstood,” says Daniella Kupor, an assistant professor of marketing at Boston University Questrom School of Business, who studies gift giving.
Bad gifts are hard on the giver, too. We may feel like a failure. “Most people give with the intention of helping another person,” says Lara Aknin, associate professor of social psychology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. “It hurts when we miss that goal.”
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