Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

Are You Good at Choosing Gifts?

Some of us pride ourselves on picking perfect gifts. Others flunk the test.

There's plenty of science to support the idea that giving to others is good for you. You can see a whole group of studies here, courtesy of Pursuit-of-Happiness.org.

Giving includes all kinds of activities other than choosing and wrapping up presents and handing them over at a party. The people on your list may crave being listened to; or acts of service like doing chores or cooking a favorite meal. Maybe they most want you to talk honestly to them. Or make love slowly.

Consider giving your loved ones what they really want, which may not be an object you can wrap up. 

It's not that spending money on others can't feel good or send a loving message. Remembering your generosity may also feel good, scientists say.

But what if it doesn't feel that way to you? 

The problem may be that you're giving under duress; you feel you have no choice. The receivers may not say "thank you." Perhaps they always want something other than what you've chosen. Perhaps they don't reciprocate. 

Or maybe you feel you're not good at picking out gifts.    

Maybe you hate to shop. Maybe your recipients have houses full of things they don't need or care about.

If you're ready to buy a gift card and put it in an envelope with a card that says "Happy holidays" and the whole process makes you feel silly—here's a suggestion. Go ahead with the gift card, if that's what your family is used to—and add an I.O.U for something you guess the recipient would value.

A massage. A homemade meal. An honest talk with your adult kids about your will.

It may mean giving up something you do that drives them crazy. Do you talk too much? Give them an IOU saying that you plan on becoming a better listener. Then catch yourself during the holidays when you start rambling. 

Do you criticize? Find five nice things to say for every criticism or say nothing. 

It's really true that "it's the thought that counts."

Be thoughtful. 

You'll make others happier and be happier, too. 

They might even reciprocate! 

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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