Common Gift-Giving Mistakes, and How to Choose Better Gifts

Want to find gifts that will really make people happy? Think more about how your recipients will actually use them, say the authors of a new study, and less about their reaction when opening the packages.
Yes, the idea of finding a gift that will offer a “big reveal” can be appealing, and can add some excitement to an otherwise predictable gift exchange. However, unless that gift is also going to offer long-term satisfaction, say researchers, it’s not the best use of your money—or your kind intentions.
All of us have given and received hundreds, if not thousands, of gifts. So why is it that as gift givers we continue makeing the same mistakes again and again? Because the gifts we want to give are not the same as the gifts we want to receive. In order to make gifts giving a little less stressful and more fun, here are some gift-giving mistakes we make due to our giver-centric focus and how to make it right.
One big mistake is to give un-requested gift to people who might have hoped for something from a registry or pre-written list. In a review published examined previous research about commonly held gift-giving beliefs, including how much a gift should cost, whether a gift should be a surprise, and what people on both ends of the exchange really want out of it.
The authors highlight a number of scenarios in which discrepancies between givers’ and receivers’ opinions are especially evident, and use these as examples of how well-meaning givers can make errors in judgment.
“Givers value that an un-requested gift can potentially surprise the recipient upon being opened and demonstrate that the giver actively thought of, and searched for, a gift,” they write. Even so, recipients tend to prefer things they actually asked for.Because such gifts are certain to match their preferences.
Gift givers may be more likely to make these kinds of mistakes when they know a gift will be opened in public.I suggest people should “put themselves in their recipient’s shoes,” and “consider how gifts might provide value to the recipient once the wrapping paper comes off.”
After all, the point of exchanging gifts with the people we love is to make them happy and strengthen our relationships with them. "By considering how valuable gifts might be over the course of the recipient's ownership of them, rather than how much of a smile it might put on recipients' faces when they are opened, we can meet these goals and provide useful, well-received gifts,” he says.
The bottom line? We know it’s not as much fun to watch someone open a tiny gift-card envelope, or for people to know ahead of time what you’re getting them. But they might be more grateful for it in the long run.
The authors also say that givers shouldn’t necessarily rule out gifts meant to help the recipient meet personal goals, like a gym membership or a fitness tracker. You may worry that such an offering will have negative connotations or make for an awkward exchange, but “recipients may appreciate such gifts more than expected because of their usefulness and relevance to their goals,” they write.
Another unwise choice could be giving a tangible, material present that looks good wrapped beneath the tree, when experiential purchases, have actually been shown to bring people more happiness. (Bonus: They can increase feelings of gratitude, as well.) And speaking of gratitude, there’s always the temptation to give socially responsible gifts, like a donation to a good cause in your giftee’s name. But while they may deliver a momentary “warm glow” to the recipient, they are unlikely to provide much value or satisfaction down the road. In other words, unless people have specifically asked for them (or unless the donation comes with something specific for them, too), it could best to let them make their own charitable contributions, at least according to these findings.
When we pick out gifts to give, we tend to think about the moment of reveal and try to pick a gift that will “wow” the recipient and provide immense immediate enjoyment. When we are receiving gifts, however, we are more focused on the long-term and think about the practical utility of the gift. When asked what types of gifts they would want to receive, people tend to prefer gifts with practical value.

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