More Than Chemistry

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Gift-Giving for the Holidays

How to Select the Perfect Present…or Ditch the Gift and Focus on Quality Time

Some people love the holidays. They immerse themselves in all the season has to offer. Other people dread this time of year and struggle to find the perfect gift. For those who need help, I outline quick tips to make the gift selection process more enjoyable.

1. When in doubt, go for consumable. It’s always fun to receive a basket full of goodies you wouldn’t find in the usual stores. For those who like to cook or entertain, food and beverage gifts are always welcome. Specialty items like sauces, sweets, coffee/teas, cheeses, wine, and beer are excellent choices. Home baked goods are also delightful – they are both thoughtful and one-of-a-kind. For those who don’t love food, self care items like bath products, lotions, and perfumes/colognes may be more suitable. Consumable articles also make perfect presents for the person who has everything.

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2. Give an experience. Life is about experiencing things so help create one. These gifts could include an annual magazine subscription, tickets to a concert or sporting event, classes for something they have always wanted to try (e.g., cooking, dance, martial arts), lotto tickets, a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and if the budget allows, a paid vacation to somewhere near or far.

3. Get something exotic. It’s always nice to receive a gift that isn’t readily available in your area. If you and the recipient live in different locations, choose something that's native to your part of the world. Or, if you’re a traveler, pick up a unique item along the way. These gifts could include art, food, jewelry, or clothing. If you aren’t a traveler, there’s always the Internet. What country has the recipient longed to see? What country did they love visiting in the past? Use Google to find a gift from that place and remember to allow enough days for shipping.

4. Personalize it. Every mall has a store that engraves gifts. These shops carry stuff for every occasion, as well as items that can be used year round such as picture frames, office supplies, and house ware. Another option is to have a gift engraved that you purchased elsewhere. Think of a simple, meaningful message that can turn a mundane gift into something special.

5. The best gift is something a person wants, but will not purchase for themself. Finding this type of gift is more easily accomplished when you regularly interact with the recipient. In this case, all you have to do is listen to them or look around their home. What do they like? When they say, “That guy has a nice jacket”, take note and store your notes in a safe place until it’s time to purchase the gift. If they haven’t mentioned anything specific, think about their hobbies or what they do on a regular basis. Yoga lovers might enjoy something from Lululemon, bookworms might like a Barnes and Noble gift card, and gardeners would relish a unique planting pot or fountain.

In the end, if your budget doesn’t permit gift-giving, your family and friends will understand. The holidays are about spending time with those you love, not spending money. Do your best to make that time memorable. As the saying goes, “yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it's called the present.”

Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at California State University, San Bernardino.

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