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A Theory Of Giving

GIFTS, WHEN YOU think about it, are a funny thing. The idea of taking a stack of perfectly good Money, which another person could use to buy perfectly good Things — things that she knows she wants and enjoys — and using it instead to buy her things she potentially won’t enjoy, is pretty odd.

From a certain, narrow point of view it makes absolutely no sense: she presumably understands herself better than you do, so in the very best case whatever you buy her will make her only-just-as-happy as the thing she would have bought herself; in the worst case, the thing you buy her will make her much less happy than what she would have bought for herself, but now you’ve already bought it and there’s nothing she can do.

What’s the idea behind gifts, then? There’s one argument that the very fact of being given something makes it more valuable, and this is true to an extent: there really is something nice about associating a particular object with the person who gave it to you.

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