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Lately, I’ve been shopping for holiday gifts, which raises questions. What makes a good gift? Is it better to surprise people, or to shop from a list they provide? Should I spend hours searching for just the right gift?

If you’ve asked yourself these kinds of questions, John Tierney wrote an interesting New York Times article, The Perfect Gift? It’s the One They Asked For.

He looked at the research, and it turns out:

  1. Focus on long-term enjoyment, not short-term drama. Recipients enjoy a gift more when it’s something they can really use, not something that’s a sensational reveal.
  2. It’s better to buy lots of people the same good present than to give everyone individual gifts that aren’t as good. We tend to think we need to give unique gifts, but recipients don’t care much about that.
  3. Re-gift without shame. Studies show that most people aren’t offended when their gifts are re-gifted.
  4. Take suggestions. If people tell you what they’d like as a gift, buy them what they’ve asked for instead of a surprise. (In my family, we’re all expected to write long lists for ourselves, to make gift-giving easier for each other.)
  5. If you give a gift card, make it as general as possible. The more specific it is, the less likely it is to be redeemed. People like flexibility.
  6. Gift-recipients enjoy a gift if it’s something they like, no matter how much time or effort went into its purchase. For gift-givers, however, putting time and effort into a gift makes them feel closer to the recipient. Pouring a lot of energy into buying a gift is something that is nice for the giver, not as much for the recipient.

Re-gift without shame. @gretchenrubin (Click to Tweet!)

Bonus tips from me:

  1. Items that are personalized seem more special, and these days, it’s easy to order personalized notepads, journals, mugs, sticky notes, etc.
  2. Think about The Five Love Languages. If your language is “Receiving Gifts,” remember that for other people, gift exchanges aren’t as meaningful as they are for you; try not to be hurt or angry if people don’t take the same time or effort that you do. And if the recipient of your gift speaks the language of “Receiving Gifts,” remember that to such a person, gifts have tremendous importance as expressions of love, so take gift-giving seriously.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Ben White.