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In which John discusses the inefficiency, oddness, and occasional magnificence of the human practice of surprising each other with gifts.

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Good morning Hank it’s Tuesday.  I’ve often heard economists criticize gift-giving for its massive inefficiency, which is fair enough.  Something like three billion dollars in gift cards goes unspent every year in the United States. Really we’d all be better off just giving each other cash, but that seems thoughtless, so instead Aunt Agatha gives us a gift card to Outback Steakhouse every Christmas because twenty-three years ago we mentioned to Aunt Agatha—in passing—that we enjoyed a Bloomin Onion. (0:25)

And then other times people do get you an actual, physical gift, like a sweater or something, but it doesn’t fit, so you gotta return it and get a different size which is inefficient.  Or it does fit and it’s hideous, so you don’t wear it very often, which is also inefficient. (0:38)

Now my wife, Sarah, has solved this problem brilliantly because every year for Christmas, she gets me a Liverpool jersey, which is exactly what I want. (0:45)

But of course, cold calculations of economic efficiency ignore much of the value of gifts, right?  Like Hank, when you got me that Aero Fighters video game machine, it meant so much to me, much more than if you’d given me a cheque for the amount it cost you and told me to buy my own Aero Fighters. (1:00)

Then there are gifts like this world on a turtle, which my parents gave to me and which means a lot because of its symbolic resonances.  That’s why I keep it right over here. *slides back into his cabinet* Oh God! (1:09)

(1:11)  Everything’s fine, Mom.  *slides back* The world is still on the turtle. (1:16)

But there’s also another upside to gift-giving, which is that occasionally, not usually, but occasionally, you get something you didn’t know you needed, but nonetheless changes your life for the better. (1:25)

Like a few years ago, Mike Rugnetta gave me the book “The Body in Pain” by Elaine Scarry, which I never would have otherwise read, and which totally changed the way I think about pain and the relationship between pain and language, and if it hadn’t been for that gift, I might not have written “Turtles All the Way Down.” (1:41)

And then I might never have gotten that world on a turtle, plus there’s the whole Reddit secret Santa thing. (1:47)  So every year, I sign up for the Reddit secret Santa exchange, in which you are paired with two random people: one of whom you give a gift to and the other of whom gives a gift to you. (1:55)  Like this year I gave a gift to a college student in Oregon, and I received a gift from a guy in Pennsylvania who just happens to be a Nerdfighter. (2:03) And in addition to getting me a one hundred dollar donation to Partners in Health, he got me a weighted blanket. (2:09)

*John is now burritoed into a weighted blanket*  I was immediately attracted to this weighted blanket because on the packaging, it said “People who cannot move the blanket cannot use the blanket.” which is one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever encountered. (2:20)  Like ultimately, that’s the reason I had to stop using Twitter, because I couldn't move it. (2:24) But anyway, I opened up this blanket, which weighs like twenty-five pounds and wrapped it around myself while watching soccer, and it was amazing. (2:32)  And then later in the day, Sarah was like “cool blanket. Can I try it?” and the kids were like “hey do they make those blankets in kids sizes?” (2:38) And that is how we ended up with four weighted blankets in our family. (2:42) I’m holding like seventy pounds of weighted blanket right now.  This person in Pennsylvania who does not know me somehow knew exactly what our family needed to make it through the frigid winter in Indianapolis, where the perpetually grey sky is extremely close to the ground. (2:56) This blanket is just the right amount of warm and just the right amount of heavy.  It makes me feel like ever so slightly swaddled. (3:03) I love this blanket so much; I don’t even want a brand deal with it because that would sully the beautiful and innocent relationship we have. (3:10)

Now I’m sure there are reasons why weighted blankets are terrible or whatever, but please do not share them with me because the blanket is easing my travel through this veil of tears, and I don’t want to have that ruined. (3:20)

So yes, gift-giving is irrational, and inefficient, but gifts can be a gesture of good will, they can help you feel less alone, and occasionally, they can even make your life better by helping you feel warm and safe in the long and lightless winter. (3:36)

And if that’s the cost of unused gift cards, I think it might be worth it. (3:39)

So thank you to my secret Santa, and Hank, I will see you on Friday (3:44)

P.S. You’ll never guess what you’re getting for your birthday.  It’s a, it’s a weighted blanket.