You see the overwhelming joy in his eyes? When you’re a kid, getting presents on your birthday or Christmas was a pretty big deal. That’s because you have practically no buying power, no real money of your own to spend on anything. As adults, that fades. Assuming you’re in reasonably good financial shape, you can buy a lot of things for yourself. That’s why it’s so hard to find the “best gift” for your friends, family and loved ones.

It was my birthday earlier this week and we didn’t do all that much to celebrate. We had a small family dinner, but my actual birthday was spent home alone with my daughter. I put together a small play table and chair set for her using the stupidly small tools that came in the box. But I digress.

And that’s the thing. As you get older, birthdays don’t really matter quite as much. They’re just another day and I’m okay with that. But presents. Even though I can buy things for myself, I still enjoy receiving gifts. I’m not going to go all sentimental and cheesy on you and say that the best gift is spending quality time with my family.

Realistically, I think it boils down to one of two main categories, the first of which I received earlier this week.

Light therapy

My wife Susanne got me a couple of lights: the Philips Morning Wake-Up Light and the Verilux HappyLight Liberty. She recognizes that I’ve been struggling with some feelings of depression and anxiety lately, so she wanted to help. I can’t speak to the effectiveness of these lights yet — I’ve only used them for about a day — but the idea is there.

And this gift ticks two boxes:

  • Something I need (or want)
  • Something I wouldn’t buy for myself

I discussed this philosophy several years ago when I wrote about buying the perfect gift. Since, as adults, we can buy things for ourselves, the ideal gift is something that the recipient probably wouldn’t buy for themselves. And believe me, I don’t think I’d ever buy these lights for myself… but they could prove very beneficial.

The second category? The gift of time.

Everyone is so busy these days, caught up in millions of responsibilities and obligations. We don’t have enough time for ourselves. We don’t take care of ourselves. Offer the gift of time by paying for a house cleaning service. Volunteer to watch the kid(s) for the afternoon. Provide “free time” without the burden of parenting guilt. I just want a couple hours to bash away at Street Fighter or quietly sip on a latte, people-watching at the local cafe.

As we look ahead to the holiday shopping season, keep these thoughts in mind. And if you’re feeling especially generous toward a particular blogger and freelance writer, I hear he maintains a wish list on Amazon with all sorts of stuff he wants but is hesitant to buy for himself.