“I just want you to be happy!”

Why do we give gifts to loved ones? Because we care that they’re happy, and our gifts make them happy. Pretty straightforward, right?

I used to think so. But then I noticed a caveat—it’s not how happy a loved one is that matters, but how happy we make them. If all we really care about is their happiness, why is it so much more heartwarming to watch a friend unwrap a present when it’s given by us and not somebody else? If our friend is equally happy, shouldn’t we feel equally good?

2 thoughts on ““I just want you to be happy!”

  1. chunior

    Maybe it’s not directly a function of the other person’s happiness, but their genuine appreciation at the thought you showed them? (I’d like to think this is the whole story, but there are some serious caveats to this too).

  2. Anonymous

    According to my understanding, traditional economic analysis will say that the gift has a marginal benefit–that the happiness the recipient gets from the gift is directly tied to the gift itself; this “utility” or happiness is known as the marginal benefit of the gift. In the context of economics, we largely consider this “utility” to be dependent on what other things are consumed by the recipient. Of course, economic analysis is far more complicated than that. But I feel like this idea–that the intrinsic value comes from material goods, and depends on other material goods–is sort of implicit in this blog post.

    But I feel like an important part of the value of the gift is that the gift tells the recipient about the giver–that the giver values the recipient enough to consider what will make him/her happy and choose a gift correspondingly, the giver has a generous heart that is willing to be a source of love and kindness, and most of all that the giver values the recipient enough to make the financial/temporal/personal sacrifice involved in giving the gift. Also, kind of like Chunior said, I guess it’s heartwarming to be appreciated.

    So yes, the gift gives some “marginal benefit” or utility. But it’s far deeper than that. It involves our relationship with them, our personal care for them–and yes, we can’t love perfectly, and that might be part of the reason we can’t appreciate others’ gifts for our loved ones as we do our own.

    We are happy when our loved ones receive a gift from others. It’s an interesting point you bring up, about the fact that we aren’t quite so elated and don’t have those same “fuzzy” feelings. Perhaps because we don’t yet have the emotional capacity to feel for our loved ones that deeply as they receive their gifts, not feeling the value they place in their relationships with others besides ourselves.

    Going back to economic analysis, in macroeconomics we say that “gifts” (in terms of international relations) are “buying friendship.”

    Sorry if this wasn’t super well-thought-out, I’m writing this pretty late at night. But I thought this was a thought-provoking and perceptive post; I hope to check out more on this blog if I have time.


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