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Work • Consumption & Need

How to Choose the Perfect Gift

Around this time of year – and, at points, all the year round – we are obliged to purchase gifts for the people we love. For such a routine ritual, it’s surprising how often it plunges us into a nightmare of indecision. Yet we understand that this is no ordinary purchase: the gifts we choose are a proxy for the love we feel. A good one is proof of the strength of our bond; a poor one risks weakening or putting it under further strain. Little wonder we spend so long agonising over our choice. 

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

There are no shortage of potential options – as our ever-inflating email inboxes can testify. But few seem capable of expressing or embodying the strength of our affection. Indeed, mostly, they’re just more ‘stuff’. Our cupboards and shelves are groaning with the neglected purchases of years gone by. In many cases, our loved ones don’t wish for more things – they want less. 

The solution isn’t to give up on gifting altogether, tempting as this may seem. It’s to think more seriously about what the person in question truly wants – or needs. It’s not that other adults don’t have any requirements; it’s merely that what they seek from us is largely psychological rather than material in nature.

These days, few of us suffer from a lack of gadgets or appliances, perfume or footwear. We yearn for a closer relationship with our partner; a more fulfilling and meaningful career; a more sympathetic perspective on our past — and a less anxious, more life-affirming approach to our future. 

This is why gifting such a vital – and loving – ritual. Genuine self-knowledge is a rare thing indeed; we are curiously poor at discerning our own emotional needs. As with so much else, an outside perspective is invaluable: others are often far better at diagnosing what we truly need than we are – particularly those who are closest to us.

The quality of a present, then, isn’t defined by how much it costs, but by its psychological utility. The perfect gift is one that can summon a particular emotional state or disposition – especially those that the recipient is struggling to conjure by other means.

As the gifting season approaches, rather than plumping for staples like socks or alcohol, a far wiser and more loving move would be to start by considering the emotional needs of those we love – and selecting a gift that helps to fulfill it. 

This ethos lies behind everything The School of Life makes. We have books that can help you find love, gain confidence, alleviate anxiety and . We have cards that contain the ideal question to ask on a date, or to spark conversation a dinner party. We have games that aren’t just fun to play – they teach us the elements of genuine friendship and connection. And if you’d rather do away with the material element altogether, we have a host of digital gifts– including audiobooks and ebooks, or a subscription to our App – that can help someone access a more fulfilling way of life.

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