The Best Way to Give Gifts, According to Psychology

giving gifts

Giving gifts is a joyous activity, but it can also be a stressful one. After all, it’s not always easy to figure out the right gift to give. And in looking at how often people return their gifts, it’s clear that the givers struggle with choosing well.

Picking the right gift can increase the recipient’s feelings of appreciation. In turn, it can help build and cement important relationships. Sadly, some people forget the point of the gift: to strengthen the relationship between the giver and the receiver.

Before you storm your local fashion boutiques and stores in Phoenix, know what you want to buy AND what your recipient might want to get.

“Ask and You Shall Receive”

Maybe this should be the motto of every gift-giver. Surprises are great, yes, but not for everyone. Research suggests the opposite: family and friends prefer to receive gifts they requested.

In a series of experiments, researchers found that givers often overlook gift requests or wish lists, believing that the recipient will appreciate any gift. On their part, recipients often prefer gifts that they specifically requested, which suggests a mismatch in expectation. This may or may not affect the relationship negatively, but the sense of satisfaction of the receiver might be less when they receive just any gift.

The curious thing is gift-givers aren’t intentionally disregarding the receiver’s wish for no reason. Many of them believe giving a surprise gift (one that doesn’t come from a wish list) is being thoughtful. They assume that their closeness makes them know what the recipient wants and appreciates. This type of mind reading, unfortunately, could go astray, so it’s better to honor the receiver’s request.

Long-term Satisfaction Instead of Initial Enthusiasm

Parents are no strangers to seeing their kids abandon their Christmas gift toys on the same day. Some givers have experienced the same incident. They were so focused on anticipating the receiver’s excitement at opening their gift that they neglected the importance of finding a gift that guarantees more joy over time.

In yet another series of experiments, researchers studied how a giver’s anticipation of the receiver’s response determined their gift choices. In all cases, the giver bought gifts without thinking about the recipient’s long-term happiness, often considering the more immediate reaction in their gift choices.

When selecting a gift, focus more on finding one that your loved one can enjoy in a long time and less on creating an emotional splash.

It Takes Two to Tango, Even in Gift-Giving

Gift-giving isn’t always a positive experience for everyone. Sometimes, a receiver believes the giver’s intention is self-serving or creates a sense of indebtedness. As such, the receiver does not appreciate the gift or the giver.  But givers aren’t the only ones playing a role in the positivity of a gift exchange; receivers are important, too. Their willingness to accept and not deny the giver the pleasure of giving affects the outcome of the exchange.

Both cases may not be such a big deal in gift-giving within family circles, but it can be an issue between colleagues or close friends. If the giver and receiver want to enhance their relationship through gifts, appreciation and understanding must be mutual.

The next time you give a gift, give some thought to what the receiver wants and how it will nurture your relationship with them. Consider what you would feel if you were the recipient.

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