Saturday, 15 December 2012

Oh it's a hot water bottle cover and other tell-tale signs of failed gifts.

Yes, Christmas has been sprung on us again this year (how did that happen?) and the potential for danger once again is huge. 
And I don't mean danger from fizzling fairy lights that the cat peed on, or from undercooked turkey or oversozzled relatives. 
No, I mean the danger of the disastrous gift. 

A large proportion of presents, probably at least a third, are destined to bring out the liar in us all. The biggest lie spoken over the festive period being, "It's just what I always wanted."
My previous research has found a number of facts about failed festive gifts, i.e.:

  • 89% of women will pretend to like a gift they hate, 79% of men will.
  • Half of all people get at least one present they dislike.
  • Half will lie to a loved one about a gift, pretending to like it.
  • 1 in 4 people say giving a gift makes them feel anxious.
  • 1 in 5 people say receiving a gift makes them feel anxious.
  • Men find the whole gift giving and getting thing maore anxiety inducing than women.
But of course we're all very good at hiding our true feelings about those bungled pressies aren't we? Not so. My research also showed that our true feelings leak out in our non-verbal behaviour, even when we're professing to love something. Notably:
  • We make eye contact with the giver if we like the gift. If we don't like it we avoid eye contact.
  • We produce a fake smile using only the mouth (not the eye) muscles when pretending to like a gift.
  • We display a gift we like and show it off to others, but are more likely to rewrap or cover a disliked gift.
It's also been found that when we don't like a gift (and therefore don't know what to say about it) we're likely to simply announce what the gift is. 
As in, "Oh, it's a HOT-WATER BOTTLE COVER." 
Said aloud, with rising intonation, it's a sure give away you're really thinking "What the hell...."

So how can we avoid making the recipients of our offerings squirm on Christmas Day? 
A number of ‘rules’ about gift exchange emerged from my research. They are
  • ·      Appropriateness
A gift that’s right will be of an appropriate value and level of intimacy. It shouldn’t violate relationship boundaries by being too intimate or too extravagant for the current status of the relationship.
  • ·      Empathy
A positive gift will be imbued with shared meaning, show understanding of need and signal a connection in the relationship. Failed gifts are often empty of meaning and/or show lack of understanding.
  • ·      Effort
A successful gift will have required the giver to put in some effort into choosing the desired object. Gifts low on substance and sentiment send out the wrong message.

I hope all your gifts are well-received this Christmas and that all that come your way are just what you always wanted. If they're not, well, you could always open them in the dark in silence then no-one will ever know....