5 Helpful Pointers To Give The Best Gifts This Christmas According to Experts

By Lucy Broadbent
on 24 December 2023

Giving gifts makes us feel good.  The act activates the reward regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust.  But there’s an art to it too if we want to give something worthwhile and not waste money.  Researchers at the National University of Singapore have found that gifts which bring long term enjoyment are typically more gratefully received than gifts that might have an immediate wow factor.  Sentimental gifts also tend to be more popular than practical.

christmas spotify

Focusing on the moment of exchange runs the risk of what Professor Adelle Yang calls the ‘smile-seeking hypothesis’, which means you are so set on getting your recipient to be wowed by your gift that you ignore what they might actually like.   An example might be giving someone a santa hat to wear on the day.  It’s funny in the moment, but the recipient might prefer a hat that could be worn year-round.

“Many of our mistakes arise from a kind of myopia. The person giving the gift is fixated on the single moment of the exchange – they want a gift that will elicit the biggest immediate reaction, even if the pleasure is short-lived,” explains David Robson, author of The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life. “Receivers, however, tend to feel greater gratitude for presents that bring longer-term enjoyment.”

Jo Munro, The Savvy Shopaholic
Jo Munro, The Savvy Shopaholic

Giving experiences and your time and focus

“Gifting experiences is an immersive gift that is not easily forgotten,” says Jo Munro, The Savvy Shopaholic. “Taking part in the experience together is even better.  One of our most precious commodities is time.  Simple experiences can be inexpensive and incredibly memorable.”

Inexpensive gifts priceless memories

Jo Munro says when setting expectations for giving gifts and the associated price tag make it fun. 

“Set a dollar amount on your gift and set a fun challenge for a a second item like a memory, photo, favourite moment spent together, a funniest moment,” adds Jo Munro.  “When giving the gifts, opening the presents also means reading/story telling favourite moments.  This is especially wonderful with Grand parents and Grand kids telling and hearing the fun stories from ‘back in the day’.

Gift giving also runs the risk of stress.  It can be seen as just one more thing on your to-do list.  There is also the worry of spending money which you might not have, the fear of buying the wrong thing, and also finding yourself in the position where you receive a gift from someone you were not expecting and having nothing to offer to reciprocate. All of it can be very stressful.

christmas sweater
Christmas sweaters

Here’s 5 pointers to help in your gift buying this season.

  1. Set expectations among friends and family.  Tell them upfront and agree to small gifts or none at all if you are worried about money.  
  2. Worry less about the price tag. Cost has very little relationship to how well a gift is received, according to Prof Jeffrey Galak, who studies the psychology of gift-giving at Carnegie Mellon University.
  3. Consider experiences over tangible goods.  Research suggests that new experiences bring longer lasting happiness and great memories.
  4. Gifts with sentimental value like a photo or a scrapbook of pictures, or something that has been home-made are typically more gratefully received than something of commercial value, according to research.
  5. Take a deep breath and shift your mindset. Gift giving has the extraordinary ability to bring about happiness. It releases pathways in the brain that release oxytocin, producing a feel good factor, so if buying gifts is making you too stressed, slow down and reimagine it as a contributor to your own happiness.

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