The Thought Doesn't Count One Bit - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Thought Doesn't Count One Bit

The Thought Doesn't Count One Bit

By Libby Coleman

SourceAlan Powdrill/Getty


This Christmas Scrooge is here to atone for her past mistakes. 

By Libby Coleman

Every year, I dream up the most personalized, thoughtful gifts for friends and family. Camping gear to stoke a budding interest in national parks; tickets to watch a live taping of a favorite show; a photo of me in a glued-together picture frame for my mom. And then I inevitably fail to execute. I buy nothing but cruelly tantalize them anyway with what I had cooked up. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Not so much, judging from my loved ones’ reactions, which range from indignation to disgust. This year, I’m turning over a new leaf — and, in fact, I think it’s time for all of us to dispense with this old cliché, passed around as widely as a bulky, regifted Christmas sweater. This holiday season: It’s not about the thought; it never has been. In fact, we’d like to underline our results-oriented approach to gift giving and start a petition to rename Mariah Carey’s Yuletide hit: “All I Want for Christmas Is a Goddamn Present I Like.” The extra syllables can be squeezed in.

Here’s the thing. This alleged counting of thoughts gives givers permission to give terrible gifts: schlock, plastic junk, monstrously neon green Teletubby backpacks (hi, Aunt Susan!). There’s a lot of money being spent out there — the National Retail Federation projects Americans will spend $630 billion during the holiday season this year, an amount that’s slightly less than the GDP of Pennsylvania — and much of that is, frankly, stuff we don’t need. 


“It’s the thought that counts” gives cover to all sorts of lousy presents. One survey last year found that three-quarters of Americans wouldn’t like their Christmas gifts. And even when intentions are good, we’re often pretty far off the mark. “Your whole concept of what makes a gift thoughtful — of what will be appreciated — is almost certainly wrong,” says Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School. The flaw: People focus way too much on what gifts they would like rather than what gifts the recipient would like. And whatever they get, recipients are guilt tripped into expressing gratefulness. 

So what to do? Part of the onus falls on the people receiving “thoughtful” gifts — like forward-thinking startups that believe in check-ins and 360 reviews. For me, it’s a different story. It’s about putting my money where my mouth is — or rather my thoughts — and actually buying those gifts I’ve promised for so long. And although not everyone has the money to buy expensive gifts, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if they could.

So this Christmas, it looks like I’ll be buying the camping gear, record player and Christmas sweaters I’ve promised family. Christmas bonuses, anyone?

If you’ve given this some thought, that doesn’t count. Leave a comment in the comments section.

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