I remember when I was a small girl, each year on my birthday I would eagerly wait to open my birthday gifts, especially the one from my parents. While I tear apart the layer of wrapping sheet stuck meticulously with cello-tape, my parents would stand beside me, in an abated breath, just to witness my reaction when I see my surprise gift. The whole ceremony used to be the decisive parameter for my parents to know if they passed the test of (surprise) gift giving skills or not. Needless to say, they always come through it with flying colors!
Children in earlier days used to have limited demands and not-so-high expectations when it came to receiving gifts. But the savvy kids nowadays prefer to receive gifts that they specifically ask for. So in present times, we ask our kids what they want for their birthday and gift accordingly to avoid any disappointments.
Nevertheless, kids are easier to please (even if at times they don’t get preferred gift) as compared to adults who don’t prefer a surprise gift unless it has long term usefulness.
A few years back, my mother received a gift from a close relative who was visiting us from a middle-east country. When he left, the children of the house started to unwrap it eagerly expecting some exotic Dates in the “surprise gift”, but to my mother’s dismay, the gift contained a pre-mix of some exotic cake meant to be prepared in oven. The fact that she dint possess oven at that time was unknown to my relative. But she did call him up the next day to say “thank you” for all the efforts he took to bring her a gift from abroad! As for the gift, it got a place in her kitchen cabinet only to be trashed away once its shelf life was over.
Though the intentions of the people who give gifts are right but as ill fate would have it, they sometimes turn into “bad gift” in the eyes of receiver. May be the receiver already has it or doesn’t need it at all (or as in my case, doesn’t know what to do with that). Talking of bad gift, I recall that right after we got engaged, I gifted my fiancée a formal shirt in bottle-green color but his fixation for the shades of blue came to my knowledge only after marriage. Now more than decade anniversaries later, the shirt still lies in his almirah with tag intact! (I suppose he still could not muster the courage to dispose it off).
So now to avoid going wrong with the gifts, we follow an unwritten code in the family ( much to my dismay) where we ask each other what the other person want and gift accordingly.
In some cases though, a feeling of resent crops up in the mind of receiver when they receive unwanted gifts. Certain anecdotes confirm this. One of my friends say she doesn’t like that her mother-in-law always gift her some religious things as if to tell her “I wish you were religious like me”, another friend dislikes it when on every birthday for past five years her son has received nothing but clothes from one their family friend as if telling her “I disapprove your sense of style”. My cousin “hated” the handbag (a dusty and musty item) which she received as a “re-gift” from her friend. This practice of gifting without thinking mars the whole idea of giving gift.
Therefore the question arises: Is gifting the gifts chosen from a giftee’s wish-list a better idea or giving a surprise gifts? For majority the first option is a safe bet since the receiver gets what he wants and the person who “gives” doesn’t have to rake his brains to find an apt gift.
But if you ask me, I would say that a surprise gift is better than the one which is specifically asked for. When a giftee receives a surprise gift, he feels awesome; something similar to that intense feeling of happiness when we get an unexpected reward. Scientifically too, it’s proven that a nice surprise triggers the release of Dopamine, a chemical which feeds the “feel-good” center in our brain and alters our mood. Besides, I feel that a surprise gift is a testament of the “true connection” between the giver and the receiver.
Though an adult but the child inside me still desire to get surprise gifts ; to be amazed upon seeing the content of my gift which is chosen with love (or secretly purchased) just for me. A lovely story to illustrate my viewpoint is The gift of the Magi by O. Henry, in which, on one hand the husband, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for her wife Della , while she , on the other hand ,sells her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch. Though the gifts were of no use to either of the receiver eventually, but the momentarily elation they felt on receiving the surprise gift was far more than a premeditated gift, had it been the case.