Five Ways to Give Better Gifts (Backed by Science)

Five Ways to Give Better Gifts (Backed by Science)

If happiness comes as much or more from giving as it does from receiving then this article is a must read…


Bundling a big, generous present with a little extra “stocking stuffer” actually detracts from the appreciation of your big gift. Contrary to everything we’ve been taught, receivers feel closer to you afterward if you choose a gift that reflects your interests rather than theirs. If you’re in a romantic relationship or hoping to nurture one, you need to be more careful giving a present to a man than a woman.

These are some of the findings from psychologists and other researchers who study gift-giving that you may want to take into account this holiday season.

1. Give a piece of you

Marilyn Cohen, an art and design historian who teaches at Parsons School of Design in New York, is a lover of popular culture and has a distinctive fashion style: She mixes vintage clothing with Target, fine antique jewelry with pieces made from plastic buttons. Even to some friends who dress simply and conservatively, this season she is giving earrings made from miniaturized, vintage greeting cards. A friend who loves Florida is getting ones that say “Greetings from Florida.”

“I wouldn’t give something there was no possibility they would use. But maybe it will be like a souvenir of their friend, and they’ll value it for that reason,” Dr. Cohen says.

Research suggests she’s doing something right. Psychologists asked participants in a series of studies to report how close they felt to each other before and after exchanging gifts. In one study of 122 university students, for example, some givers were instructed to give an iTunes song that reflects “your true self” and others to give one that reflects “your knowledge of the recipient.”

“Surprisingly,” concluded the authors of the paper, published in September in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, in the studies overall, “both givers and receivers report greater feelings of closeness to their gift partner when the gift reflects the giver.”

Lara Aknin, assistant professor of social psychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, was one of the researchers and takes her findings to heart. She recently gave her brother Josh a gift card to one of her favorite French restaurants for his birthday, even though he typically eats at casual places like the Cheesecake Factory or the Keg. “I’ll have steak frites, she recommends it,” he says. “I’m very excited and I’ll think of her.”

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