The process of choosing gifts can be stressful and cause anxiety. A wrong gift may do more harm than good.
Based on years of research, here are some tips on how to avoid such pitfalls.
Why do we give presents?
According to research into the psychology behind gift-giving, there are two things you should consider before giving someone a present.
First, you want to make sure that the gift recipient is happy. It depends a lot on whether they like the gift.
Second, strengthening the relationship between the giver and recipient. Giving a thoughtful, memorable gift that shows you know the recipient well is a great way to achieve this. This usually means asking someone what they want without them directly knowing.
You can easily see the puzzle.
Asking for the gift that someone wants is the most obvious way to get it. This approach is highly desirable. This approach fails to communicate thoughtfulness.
The best kind of gift is one both desired by the recipient and thoughtful. For me, this might be a custom t-shirt printed with an in-joke.
The worst gift is one that’s neither wanted nor thoughtful. This could be a pair of socks for me.
There are also gifts that people want but don’t think about, like cash. And there are gifts they don’t wish to but do consider, like naming a new star after me. I love astronomy, but this isn’t the right thing for me.
Read more: We’re not as Grinchy as we think: how gift-giving is inspired by beliefs-based altruism.
Navigating social risk
It is for this reason that buying a present can cause anxiety. It is ” social risks“.
A gift that is well received can increase the quality of the relationship between the giver and recipient by increasing feelings such as connection, bonding, and commitment. A poorly received gift can do the opposite.
Research has shown this. In a study from 1999, 129 participants were asked to describe a specific situation where they received a gift. Ten people said that gifts weakened their relationship. Two people ended their relationship because of the facility.
You may not be as impressed by the thought as you believe. Gift givers often overrate unsolicited gifts.
What is the value of a thought?
The research also shows that people tend to underestimate their ability to determine what the recipient will enjoy and, therefore, what gifts will strengthen the relationship.
In a study from 2011, respondents were asked to recall either their own wedding, or one to which they had been a guest. The gift recipients were asked how much they appreciated gifts that were listed on a registry or those that were not. Guests were asked how they felt about the gifts.
Gift recipients preferred to receive gifts from their own list. Gift givers tend to assume that uninvited gifts (those which are not listed on the registry list) will be viewed as more thoughtful by the intended recipients. This isn’t the case.
Gift givers tend to believe that expensive gifts are more appreciated. Gift recipients value both costly and inexpensive presents. They actually feel closer to those who give convenient gifts. For example, a gift card to a local ordinary restaurant is more appreciated than one from a distant upscale establishment.
The psychology of money
What if you give cash?
The recipient can get exactly what they want. Cash is a less thoughtful gift because it does not require any effort.
Cash is often given to Chinese people in a red envelope as a way of decommodifying the money. It’s a good luck symbol. Consider a creative way to present cash. For example, you could use clever origami or some other personalization. This will demonstrate a greater level of thoughtfulness.
Gift cards are the closest thing to cash. It takes some effort, and it allows for some thoughtfulness when selecting which gift card to buy. The research shows that gift cards are often used as a final resort.