Last week I allowed myself the luxury of a small rant about having a Christmas birthday. It seems fitting to follow that up with a related rant about birthday presents, and gift giving in general. I have observed that if you have a winter birthday, people tend to give gifts aligned with the season; gloves, hats, scarves and other items designed to make winter bearable. Those things are useful, no doubt about it, but if you’d rather be lying on a beach in the Bahamas, winter weather-related gifts won’t warm the cockles of your heart.
Summer birthday gifts can include bathing suits, sunglasses, and flimsy shirts. All wonderful, I’m sure, unless you’re dreaming of your favorite season, winter! How many people born in June do you think get skis for their birthday? I’m guessing very few. If you had a summer birthday and lived for winter, I imagine birthdays could feel like lost opportunities to you. But for those of you with summer birthdays, all is not lost! If you’re one of the 93% of Americans who celebrate Christmas and you’re seasonally disappointed on your birthday, all you need to do is make your desires known and then sit tight for half a year.
Gareth Cook, a Boston Globe columnist, recently wrote an article called The Perfect Gift. He said that a scholar at the Harvard Business School, Francesca Gino, reports that people appreciate gifts that they’ve requested more than those that you give without consulting beforehand. For me, this is terrible news. According to the article, “Gino has published a detailed scientific paper, complete with tables and footnotes, describing her findings,” and I believe every word of it sight unseen. But it doesn’t apply to me. I don’t want you to ask me what I want. I want you to know me well enough to know what will make me happy.
I’m always making little notes to myself about what might make a good gift for someone. When I hear you say, “Gosh, I’d really like to have a widget someday,” I write it down so I won’t forget. I want to give you something you want, but I want to surprise you, too. That means I have to be attentive to you all year round. That sounds like a tall order, but it isn’t. It simply means that I listen when you talk. Then I can reflect back on the conversations we’ve had over the year and extract clues and hints about your heart’s desires. If I’m lucky, I have a stated desire or two written on a piece of paper somewhere.
If you are an adherent of Ms. Gino’s, you may think you’re honoring me by asking what I want for my birthday, but I want to be surprised. I believe it’s the thought that counts. I’d like you to think about me. Have you been listening to me over the course of the year? The greatest gift I could get would be for you to say, “I remember you saying that…” If I thought you listened to me, I wouldn’t care what was in the box.