When people exchange gifts, it is often said that it is the ‘thought that counts’. This common wisdom suggests that the appreciation and gratitude that comes from receiving a gift are based on more than the gift’s objective quality. It also depends on how much thought was put into the gift. Gifts exchanged with time and effort taken to identify the perfect gift, are presumably appreciated more than gifts chosen at random.
However, the notion that it is the ‘thought that counts’ can, at times be, exaggerated, mispredicted, and misplaced. Choosing the perfect gift is difficult, involving costs of time, thought, and money as gifts are meant to be appreciated in a way that strengthens the very relationship. Putting a lot of thought into getting just the perfect gift would seem to count considerably for receivers and increase appreciation because such thoughts signal affection from the one giving the gift.
On a very basic level when people give gifts, two things are at play. The objective value of the gift and the symbolic meaning of the exchange. When people say that it is the ‘thought that counts’, they are often considering the objective value to be of secondary importance to the symbolic meaning of it. Now from my experience that only happens when the gift is bad. If you give a bad gift, then the receiver perceives you put thought into it and values the thought more than the actual gift.
However when giving a gift, one should give priority to choosing gifts that the receivers would actually like rather than gifts that reveal thoughtfulness. Although being thoughtful could lead people to choose better gifts, it could also lead people to choose worse gifts. For instance, a few might believe that gifts chosen from a receiver’s wish list would be considered less thoughtful. But the receivers might actually appreciate receiving a requested gift more than an unrequested, yet thoughtful gift.
In conclusion, two practical implications must be taken into consideration. If you want to give a gift that someone will appreciate, then you should focus on getting a good gift and ignore whether it is a thoughtful gift or not. But if you want to feel closer to the person you are giving gifts to, then put in as much thought into your gift as you possibly can but do not be offended when your thoughtfulness is overlooked.
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