The holiday season has come and gone. If you’re like most of us, you probably gave and received some gifts that were great successes…as well as some that fell flat. Despite the care and time we put into gift-giving, it can sometimes be really tough to find the “perfect thing.”
This issue may seem especially loaded when it comes to the gifts we give to our partners! Do we go for the big, splashy surprise, or the “safe choice” off their wish list? The decisions can seem impossible.
But did you know that researchers actually have some idea of what gift receivers really want…and how and why it doesn’t always match up with what gift givers tend to buy? That’s right—over the years, experts have looked at this question many times. They now have some idea of what does--and doesn’t--make for a good gift, at least from the recipients’ point of view. Although these “good gifting” guidelines are general, not specific to partners, they still are quite likely to apply.
Common Gift Giving Mistakes
- Giving “flashy” but impractical gifts
Many gift givers focus on presents that will seem spectacular or exciting when opened. But recipients often prefer gifts they asked for or registered for. It might not seem as exciting, but it suits their needs.
- Giving surprise gifts
Along the same lines: many givers also think it’s more thoughtful or caring to give a “surprise” gift that they believe fits the receiver, instead of a gift the receiver asked for. They may think that this shows they really thought about the person. Again, though, most people prefer to get what they requested.
- Giving expensive gifts
Givers think recipients will be wowed by costly luxury gifts. But guess what? Recipients don’t find this particularly impressive. They may feel just as happy with a small item.
- Giving “socially responsible” gifts
Gifting a charity donation or another gift that implies doing good might work for some, but many recipients don’t find this particularly satisfying and don’t feel the positive feelings givers think they will.
- NOT giving a “down payment” gift
Givers may shy away from giving a “deposit” on a larger gift, like money towards a new computer or a musical instrument. It seems incomplete or unsatisfying. But recipients are generally happy with this type of gift, and prefer to it a more complete but less desired substitute.
- Always giving a tangible thing instead of an “experience” gift
Gifters may think a present you can hold and touch is superior to tickets to a concert or event, but recipients don’t agree. These can be some of the most satisfying and memorable gifts, in fact.
Remember Empathy when Giving
Did you notice a pattern here? Overall, it seems like many common gifting mistakes arise from the giver focusing on “the big moment” when the gift is opened, rather than the overall experience or value the giver gets from the present. To be a good giver, it seems, we need to put ourselves in the recipient’s shoes and think about his or her long-term experience with the gift. It’s a bit of an exercise in empathy, in fact. And isn’t empathy exactly what we hope to have for the person we love?
Of course, every general rule has many exceptions to it. You might not think these ideas apply to your partner, and you could be right. (Maybe they love your surprise gifts, or don’t like nontangible presents.) However, it’s undoubtedly a good idea to work on finding out more about what your partner truly wants and will enjoy—not just at the moment when the wrapping paper comes off, but long afterwards. Though gifts definitely aren’t everything, it feels good to give and receive the presents we hoped for.
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By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Galak, J., Givi, J., & Williams, E. F. (2016). Why certain gifts are great to give but not to get: A framework for understanding errors in gift giving. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(6), 380-385. DOI: 10.1177/0963721416656937