I love gifts as much as the next person -- love giving 'em, love getting 'em. Gifts are a natural manifestation of the love and joy we hope to share with our nearest and dearest (and sometimes the boss, too).
The trouble is that in many cases—certain holidays, birthdays and artificial pressure-cooker events like Valentine's Day--gift-giving can devolve into an expensive material exchange, in which obligation plays a bigger role than the pleasure we're supposed to be sharing.
It's time for a reality check. Video: $0 gifts between friends
Let's recapture the spirit of giving by taking a hiatus from stuff and focusing on -- I don't know, call me crazy -- how about fun? How about having an unforgettably good time?
Rather than succumb to the undertow of shop-more-buy-more-get-more, we need to admit the painful truth: No one wants another Gap sweater.
What you really, really want
What do you want? What do I want? What do most human beings really secretly hope to find when they tear through the wrapping paper of life?
We want to be happy. We want to revel in our lives – reveling being in particularly short supply for most overtaxed Americans. We want to break out of the tedium of everyday life and remember, as Jim Bouton so memorably wrote in "Ball Four" (my husband's favorite baseball book), to tingle.
So what does that mean, and wouldn't a new iPod count? Video: Give a 'soundtrack to his life'
I spent two years researching a book about what makes people happy, why most people spend money on things that don't make us happy -- and how we can learn to invest more in the stuff that does. (It's called "Money Can Buy Happiness," if you're interested.)
What I discovered: Cashmere hoodies and flat-screen TVs are great, but like most material goods they bring only a fleeting sort of happiness. Video: MP's gift swap
It isn't exactly news; wise men and women have been whistling this tune for thousands of years.
What is new, however, is the proof -- in this case, data from numerous studies by behavioral economists, psychologists and even neurobiologists.
The research strongly indicates that when you invest in