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Adulting 101: Why is it so difficult to find the 'perfect' present?

Adulting 101: Why is it so difficult to find the 'perfect' present?

Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

By Loraine Lee Published December 4, 2022 Updated December 5, 2022 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SINGAPORE — As a child, opening presents under the Christmas tree was the highlight of the festive season, wondering what Santa (rather, my parents) gifted that year.

But with age comes the pressure of becoming Santa; the Christmas music blasting in malls signalling the start of making my laps around shopping malls figuring out what to buy for my loved ones, friends and acquaintances for upcoming celebrations.

Having had my fair share of questionable Christmas presents — like a Samsung phone cover for my iPhone and a bag of coffee which I am allergic to — I fear becoming someone who gives an objectively useless gift.

But at the same time, some people seem like they have everything, or when asked, will say they want nothing.

When I brought up this dilemma to my colleagues, they too said the festive season brings the trouble of finding the perfect gift. 

It can’t be too expensive or too cheap. Neither can it be too practical, and having an element of surprise is a plus point.

One colleague told me: “If someone asked I would tell them I don’t want anything. Though I really want a nice bottle of gin.”

While Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You may be blasting through the speakers, I wish my presence is enough as a gift so that I can stop swiping my card and stop walking down the same malls over and over again.

So why is it so difficult to find the perfect present? And how can we make the festive season more festive? I spoke to experts to unwrap the struggles of gift-giving.


Singapore University of Social Sciences Associate Professor Jimmy Wong describes gift-giving as a “very complex social phenomenon” with multiple factors — such as the relationship between the giver and receiver, their desires and the context of gift-giving.

“Receiving the right gift will bring delight and pleasure. This is obvious and is in our consciousness,” said Assoc Prof Wong.

“But what lurks in the subconscious resides mainly with the giver. Little do we realise that giving the ‘perfect’ gift showcases the giver’s worth and self-esteem. It also shows the giver’s taste and reflects one’s social standing.”

Assoc Prof Wong said that when choosing a gift for someone close, like a family member or romantic partner, we are more involved in the process of selecting a gift — hence, the added stress. 

But when it comes to acquaintances, we are less involved and would then be less stressed. 

And there’s added difficulty when we don’t know the receiver well enough, said Dr Carmen Teo, the founder of Mindful Insights, a company that does mindfulness and compassion training to individuals and organisations.

There is also the question of how to make sure our money is well spent on the gift, or how our efforts can be well used.

“Psychologically, it can also feel hard (to decide on a gift) when self-doubts kick in and we wonder whether the receiver would appreciate all that we have given,” said Dr Teo.

I could not help but agree. Christmas shopping for my family often includes going around shops multiple times to look around in case I stumble upon a better gift.


When searching for a gift, experts say there are two things to consider — who the receiver is, and what context you are giving the gift to.

Experts also warn that it is important to avoid gifting something that may cause embarrassment.

One example Assoc Prof Wong shared was if a student gifted a professor an expensive gift, which may put the professor in an “uncomfortable situation”.

So what about a handmade gift? Assoc Prof Wong said that this depends on how close you are to the receiver — the closer you are, the more likely the gift will be appreciated.

He cautioned that gifting an elaborate handmade gift may inadvertently cause embarrassment for the receiver who had not put in a similar effort.

But an easier way is to openly communicate with each other, said founder of Centre for Mindfulness Dr Kathirasan K. 

“Now with technology, it’s easy to have a wish list which people can refer to and purchase something they want,” he said.

“Personally, my wife and I would rather gift acts of charity as opposed to physical items because it’s less wasteful.”

While he noted that the younger generation might find it easier to share their needs and wants — such as through social media — the older generations often see conservatism as a virtue.

Assoc Prof Wong noted that often in Asian culture, it is “only polite to say no, when deep down, we mean that we really want something”.

To overcome that, he suggests seeking inputs from the recipient’s close friend or colleague for hints. Wish lists are also a good way to avoid the stress and embarrassment of buying a bad gift.

Nonetheless, Dr Teo said that gifts should be bought out of sincerity and that the thought behind it is most important.

“Most people do not need more gifts, they need more love (and compassion). Even when you do give something physical, it serves as the conduit to expressing your love for this person,” she said.

So, to my friends, family and acquaintances reading this article, I would appreciate it if you could send me your wish lists, so as to end my agony of hearing jingle bells for the umpteenth time in a shopping mall.

Though, and I beg you, please bear in mind inflation.

ABOUT THE WRITER:Loraine Lee, 24, is a journalist at TODAY, covering environment, housing and education.