When I was in elementary school, I desperately wanted an easy-to-bake oven. I even wrote a story, based on a dream I had, in which my family and I were trapped during a tornado and I saved us from starving by baking pies in my oven. But year after year, Christmas, Hanukkah, and my birthday would all roll into one holiday, and I’d be out, once again, without an oven. Eventually, I came to accept that my dream was not meant to be.
But one day, when I was 17, I came home to a box on the kitchen counter with a big bow on it. My mother and sister had remembered my wish from years ago: I finally had my oven. I have received more timely, more useful and more extravagant gifts in my life, but none of them topped this one.
Giving a great gift is an act of empathy, and the best gifts — many of which reporter Kate Murphy gathered in a not-so-scientific field survey for this story — show that the giver has paid attention. (As for the worst gifts, well, just wait until you get to the diamond earrings.)