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Three Rules to Giving the Good Gift

It probably isn’t surprising that I’m a disciple of the Good Gift, that perfect present that genuinely increases someone’s happiness. After all, people-watching is my favorite sport and I tend to enjoy the opportunity to turn what I know about someone into a smile on their face. So when Marc asked me to think of my favorite gift for the blog, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about: oven mitts.

Like anyone that does a lot of cooking, I have a nice pattern of scars on my arms from burning myself while taking things out of the oven. And clumsy as I am, I’ve dropped more than one batch of brownies on the floor after they burned through the cloth oven mitt I was using.

Enter the silicone oven mitt, given to me by a kitchen-avoiding friend on my birthday, which protects my hand even if I dip it in molten brownie batter. To me, it is the perfect embodiment of the Good Gift. There are different kinds of happy, and the Good Gift is the one that is less “you bought me a diamond ring” and more “you are ridiculously awesome.”

Understanding the purpose gifts in general is essential to picking the Good Gift. With a few exceptions, gift giving has evolved as a form of symbolic communication. It actually says something about the relationship between the giver and recipient and is a reflection on the emotional bond they share.

Here are three rules to getting the Good Gift:

  1. Tailor the gift to the receiver’s interests—Getting something in their sphere of interest demonstrates that you know them in a personal way that gives you access to their likes and dislikes
  2. Make sure it’s something they’ll actually use—Getting something useful means that the person will come back to it often, giving them a chance to re-experience the warm feeling associated with the giver.
  3. Look for something they would never get for themselves—I don’t mean that you should buy Aunt Millie the latest The Streets album. Rather, try to find something that they would consider a “luxury.” It doesn’t even have to be expensive, just something they normally wouldn’t treat themselves to. This shows knowledge of their personality, which reaffirms your connection.

This is why I’m so desperately in love with the silicone oven mitt. First, it involves something I like doing. It isn’t that my friend knew anything about oven mitts, but she knew I like to cook. If you’re unsure what your receiver does in their down time, do a little research: talk to mutual friends, check out their Facebook profile, or simply ask them what they do to relax.

The oven mitt is also useful. I’m not saying that you have to get everyone a hammer and nails, but given what you know about their interests, try to find something that they’ll come back to. You want to remind them of your bond, so the more they actually use your gift, the more they’ll be thinking about you.

Last, and perhaps most subtly, the oven mitt wasn’t something I would have bought for myself. My friend knew me well enough to know that I’d go on buying cheap oven mitts that didn’t work, because the choice was paying $3 for a cloth mitt or $10 for silicone. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford ten bucks, but at three times the price, it just didn’t seem that good compared to a regular cloth mitt.

One way to think about this is the Thank You rule. When they are sitting down to write their Thank You notes (my mother taught me well), they should be able to remember both your gift and who gave it to them without having to haul off and find your card. Memorable is the key to a Good Gift.

And the oven mitt is certainly that. My friend managed to find me a gift that was tailored to my interest and useful, which signaled what she knew about me and our relationship, and which I would never have bought for myself. She did it for less than $15 and it was a success using the best barometer I know: the fact that I’m still talking about the gift, enjoying it, and remembering her, even though she gave it to me years ago. And that’s the true sign of any good gift: it stays with you.

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