In one of today’s emails to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, a husband is baffled where he went wrong with the birthday gift he bought his wife. Here’s the email:
I bought my brother a top-of-the-line espresso machine for his birthday. My wife remarked that it was a very generous and thoughtful gift, so I took that as a hint and got her the same espresso machine for her birthday. But she ended up not being very happy with my gift. Why do you think she wasn’t as excited as I expected? —Nikos
And here is Dan’s reply:
Gifts are ways to give people things they want, but with romantic partners, what they really want is to feel special. According to a recent study by Lalin Anik of the University of Virginia and Ryan Hauser of Yale, that’s why people often prefer to receive a unique gift from their significant other rather than a lavish one. By giving your wife the same coffee machine you gave to your brother, you’re not communicating that she is special to you; in fact, she may feel that you simply wanted to spend a minimum of time and effort finding a gift. Even if you were to give her a coffee machine, it would have been better to give her a different model and tell her how much time you invested finding the exact right machine for her.
My first thought when I read Dan’s reply was that while it made sense to me, I thought it may not apply to everyone.
I don’t think I would have been bothered at all if I received such a gift, assuming we needed an espresso machine.
I’m not sure if it is a gender thing, or just a me thing.
Nikos’s wife does note that it was a thoughtful gift, so I’m not sure why it still would not be considered a thoughtful gift if it was for her. I can understand Nikos’s confusion.
But maybe this is a sign I need to take Dan’s advice to heart, and make sure I try and give my wife unique gifts, and not lavish ones.
Maybe I can give her a free, lifetime subscription to my blog, followed up the next year with access to all my recorded accounting lectures…