Giving is a form of art. However, unlike any other type of art, you don’t need to be a natural talent because everyone can learn how to give better gifts. Scientists have covered this topic for ages and found the answers to your most pruning questions. Like what makes a gift good? Should you wrap your gifts? And how to give great gifts that stand out?
Today, you will find 14 science-based gifting tips to make your gift stand out, so next Christmas you will truly master the art of giving.
And for more gifting tips, check out these gift etiquette rules that everyone should know.
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How to give better gifts: 14 tips
#1 Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes
I know, this might sound obvious.
But trust me, this is the key to learning how to give great gifts. If you master this tip, all the other tips on this list will be so much easier to follow. If there is only one thing you will take away from today, let it be this.
Research has shown over and over again that givers’ and receivers’ perspectives on what makes a great gift differ substantially. Givers often go for gifts that have a “wow” factor, something that will make the recipient smile when they open the gift.
Receivers, on the other hand, think about the long-term usability of a gift. (Check out the next tip to learn how to pick those useful gifts).
The main takeaway from this first tip is that you should never make gifting about yourself. In fact, take yourself out of the equation completely. This is also one of the most important etiquette rules when it comes to gifting, but I just wanted to stress it here again.
#2 Go for useful and versatile gifts
As I said earlier, studies show discrepancies between how givers and receivers value gifts.
Givers focus on the value or desirability in the moment of receiving. Whereas receivers think about the long term and what they can do with the gift.
Yes, a beautiful piece of wall art can create a wow at the moment of unpacking, but the recipient will probably think about where they are going to place it. They might love the way their homes look already and don’t need another accessory to add.
So when you’re buying a gift, don’t think about the recipient’s first reaction when he or she opens it, but instead, try to imagine the recipient with the gift a year from now. Ask yourself the following questions.
- When will the recipient use this?
- Would I use this?
- Will the item still work a year from now? (We will talk more about the quality of a gift in tip #10 )
- Where will this gift be a year from now? If the answer is somewhere forgotten in a corner, drop this gift immediately.
Obviously, if we’re talking about a bottle of wine these questions don’t make sense. But you can still ask yourself whether a good quality wine or whether you are buying it because the packaging looks cool. Scientists advise; always chose the high-quality one.
#3 Chose practicality over uniqueness
Hopefully, by now you will understand the importance of putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes and really think like a receiver and not a giver.
If not, let’s do a thought experiment.
Let’s say you’re looking for a gift for a friend and your two options are a generic gift card he or she can use for multiple stores or a gift card for their favorite shop. And they are both of equal value of course.
Which one would you pick?
If you picked the one for their favorite store, you are not alone. This thought experiment was performed by scientists and it showed that the majority of givers choose this option. And it makes sense.
You want to give something unique because it shows how good you know the person and much effort you’ve put into the gift.
But, you are thinking from the giver’s perspective again.
Go back to tip 1 and think from the receiver’s perspective. Yes, it might be their favorite store, but they can use a generic gift card for so much more. The study also revealed that the majority of receivers preferred a generic gift card over one for their favorite store.
So again, if you want to give better gifts, stop focusing on yourself and focus on the recipient. It doesn’t matter if it seems like you didn’t put any thought into the gift if it’s actually a better gift than a unique one.
Oh, one last note on this tip; don’t overdo it. Don’t go all the way when it comes to finding a practical gift. Yes, they probably use toothpaste every day, but that doesn’t necessarily make toothpaste a great gift.
#4 Give them what they ask for
I know, it’s tempting. The recipient specifically requested something, but you want to surprise them. And you want to show them how much you care about them and how well you know them. And you just know, they will love this other thing that you want to give.
But wait. Stop right there.
Whose perspective are you looking from now? Yours or the recipient’s?
Again, go back to tip 1, and think about the recipient. If they didn’t want this gift, they probably wouldn’t have asked for it. So be smart and listen, it’s okay to not have a unique gift.
And if you don’t believe me, believe science. It has actually been shown that the element of surprise (so gifting something different than what a recipient asked for) does not improve the recipient’s valuation of that gift.
What they also found was that receivers were way happier with their solicited gift than givers ever believed they would. So even if you think they won’t like it, they will.
And if you think long term, a year from now they will still happily use your gift and still remember you gave it. Whereas if you would have given a surprise gift, they would have forgotten all about how surprised they felt when they opened it, and not use the gift.
And if you don’t want to ask what the recipient wants, check out the next tip.
#5 Listen and stalk
I get it, you don’t want to ask the recipient what they want directly. Probably because you are still thinking from your perspective and you want to show how much you care and you want to surprise them.
But that’s okay, I’ve got two strategies that will still teach you how to give better gifts without losing the element of surprise.
The first one is, to listen.
Now, obviously, I hope you always listen when you’re talking with your friends or family. But when it comes to gifting, it’s quite practical to listen to what they might want or need. Maybe they will drop a hint, or say something about an item they want. Or even better, maybe they’re always complaining about something and now you can find a gift to solve that issue.
And if you forgot to listen in the past and the gifting occasion is next week, here is the second strategy on how to give better gifts; stalk them.
Alright, not really stalk them. Please, I do not want to be responsible for a restraining order.
But stalk their social media profiles. They might follow a brand or have a Pinterest board that could give you some inspiration.
#6 Buy as soon as you see the perfect gift
Who said you need to wait until the last moment to buy a gift?
Here is my advice, if you see a perfect gift, buy it straight away. That way you can listen to them all year long and you don’t have to remember every little complaint just in case you want to use it for a gift.
Even if their birthday or Christmas is months away, just buy it. It will give you some peace of mind because you no longer have to think about this gift. Plus it will spread out your Christmas spending over the year, instead of in one month.
Just one head up. This may not be the best strategy when you’re gifting food or a plant (unless you can keep it alive until then), but other than that it doesn’t matter when you bought the gift as long as it’s a perfect gift.
#7 Let’s talk money
If you thought you could skip all these tips on how to give great gifts and simply spend more money to give better gifts, think again.
Research has shown that it’s not about the money. Yes, there is a certain threshold of how much a gift should cost. This depends on how well you know each other, how much this person means to you, the gifting occasion, your and the receiver’s economical status, and how much you generally spend on gifts for each other.
But, once you’ve met that minimum threshold, studies showed that spending more did not increase the receiver’s happiness. (Source)
Another interesting and very important thing you should know about money and how to give better gifts is that you should avoid discounted gifts.
One study showed that receivers valued discounted gifts worse than gifts that were of the same price without a discount. Even if the receiver specifically asked for that gift they disliked the discounted gift more. (Source)
#8 Go for experiential gifts
I love it when science supports something that I’ve always believed to be true. Experience gifts are the best gifts.
They bring you closer to the recipient (even if you don’t experience the gift together), the recipient will remember the gift longer, and the anticipation for the experience will add even more joy than the gift itself.
#9 Sharing is caring; find something you and the recipient share
Humans love to feel connected. And one way we do that is by sharing interests with others.
So if you want to learn how to give better gifts, put yourself in the recipient’s shoes (again) and try to think of something you both share. Maybe it’s the love for a sport, drinking wine, or some other hobby.
Once you’ve found a shared interest, go and find a useful or versatile gift related to this interest.
And because you picked something you share, they will feel more connected to you and appreciate your gift more.
Another way in which you can achieve this is by buying a gift you also own yourself. Again this creates a feeling of connectedness and studies have shown that receivers will appreciate these gifts more.
#10 Go for quality
Yes the thought matters, but if you ask recipients the quality of a gift matters even more.
If this means they will receive a gift later (because it was out of stock) or they will receive fewer gifts because it’s more expensive, recipients still prefer high-quality gifts over thoughtful ones.
#11 Buy a personalized gift
Personalized gifts are another great strategy to help you give better gifts. I have also shared this in my fun facts about gifts post. Studies have found that people keep personalized gifts longer than generic ones and that they are more likely to tell others about their amazing personalized gift.
But most importantly, most receivers actually prefer heartfelt and personalized gifts over generic gifts worth 100$
However, remember what you learned so far about how to give great gifts; think from the receiver’s perspective and pick a useful or practical gift.
#12 Presentation counts
Yep, that’s right, presentation counts, but probably not in the way you expected it would.
I was rather surprised when I read the results of this study. Because most of us (or at least me) probably always packed our gifts as nicely as possible, adding some ribbons, glitters, and whatnot to make it look spectacular and create that “wow” effect right?
Well, it turns out that if you are close friends it’s better to wrap sloppy!
Yeah, so much for trying your best. It lowers expectations which is why the gift itself is perceived better.
For acquaintances, however, it’s better to wrap neatly. As opposed to close friends, the wrapping says something about how you value the relationship. And multiple studies showed that people do prefer nicely wrapped gifts. So luckily all our previous wrapping wasn’t for nothing.
#13 Avoid adding a small gift to a big gift
I’ve also shared this finding when I talked about the fun facts about gifting because it really surprised me.
But research showed that if you add a small gift to a bigger one (for example one free song download to a portable speaker), people actually value the bigger gift less!
So in this case, less is more.
Even though as a giver you would always want to give more, think like a recipient and stick with the one main gift. To help you with that, think of it this way. It’s like giving expensive caviar and then adding plastic cutlery to eat it with.
#14 Avoid gifting out of guilt
One study found two interesting results with regards to gifting out of gratitude and guilt.
And this is also why tip 1 on how to give better gifts is so important.
Their finding showed that participants who gave a gift out of guilt felt better and more connected to the recipient. This makes sense because that was probably the intention of the gift in the first place.
But here is the interesting parts.
From the receiver’s perspective, a gift received out of gratitude makes them feel closer than a gift out of guilt.
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How to give better gifts: final note
Alright, I hope these tips on how to give better gifts helped you to truly master the art of giving! Because giving is one of the most beautiful things in the world, and it’s even greater if the receiver is as happy as you are.
For more gifting tips, check out these etiquette rules that every giver should know!