The field of economics is not particularly known for its generosity, so an academic paper might not be the first place you turn to when choosing a gift for a friend or loved one.
Well, your loss. Or, more accurately, their loss, since it turns out that we're pretty reliably terrible gift-givers. The reason why, according to a a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, is that those of us giving gifts are too wrapped up in sentimentality to buy anything of much use for our loved ones.
Ironically, the study finds that we're awful gift-givers precisely because we spend too much time trying to be considerate. We imagine our friends opening a gift that is impressive, expensive, and sentimental. We imagine the look of delirious happiness and surprise on their faces ("You really know me! This was so thoughtful!") and the warmth we feel in return ("Yeah, I do! Yes, I thought a lot about it!"). But there's something that the most sentimental gift-givers tend to not think too much about: Whether the gift is practical in the first place.
In many ways, practicality seems like an enemy of great gift giving. Beautiful jewelry, lovely watches, perfect rugs, meticulously crafted kitchen hardware: These sort of things ostensibly make for great gifts because they communicate something beyond practicality. They communicate that the giver cares.