My solution to the stress of holiday shopping is generally to not give gifts at all.
I know, I’m a grinch.
But I can’t help feeling deflated every time I give a close friend or family member a present that they’re supposedly delighted by, only to find it sitting in the “giveaway” pile a few months later. (Seriously, guys?)
So I was delighted to see a new paper on how to be a better gift giver, and some common psychological traps people fall into while gift giving.
The paper, published by researchers at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, and cited at The Washington Post, focuses on one mistake in particular:
Givers focus too much on the moment of exchange, while recipients think about how valuable the gift will be while they own it.
In the paper, the researchers review multiple studies around this theme. One 2014 study, for example, found that gift givers generally prefer giving highly desirable gifts (such as a high-quality video game that is hard to learn), while receivers tend to prefer gifts that are more feasible than desirable (such as a medium-quality video game that is very easy to learn).
Another 2014 study found that givers generally choose material gifts (such as an iPad), while recipients would be happier if you gave them experiential gifts (such as tickets to a concert). That might happen because you don’t have to know someone as well to get them a material gift.
Interestingly, the researchers aren’t sure exactly why givers make these and other similar mistakes. One possibility is that givers genuinely believe that recipients would rather a gift that makes them happy in the moment than in the long run.
Another possibility is that givers simply want to look like a “great gift giver” when they present the recipient with that fancy sweater or high-quality video game and don’t necessarily care that the recipient would have preferred something else.
If that first possibility sounds like your situation, the solution is pretty simple: The next time you give a gift, think long-term.
A box of fancy chocolates? Lovely, but they’ll likely disappear within a week (or maybe that’s the point). A new blender? Maybe not as elegant, but your friend will use it every single morning to make her smoothies.
So consider this my present to you: a psychological hack to be a better gift giver. Enjoy, and happy holidays.