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5 Ways to Give Better Gifts This Year

Research-based tips for giving that makes recipients happier, and for longer.

Source: Masson/Shutterstock

Economists have argued that gift-giving is a colossal waste of effort and money. Unless you know exactly what someone wants, he or she probably won’t get enough enjoyment out of your gift to justify what it cost you. (I have drawers full of well-intended but unused gifts which suggest that there’s something to this idea.)

But before we dispense with gift-giving altogether, consider a different view: Certain kinds of purchases are more likely to bring enjoyment than others. Try following these research-backed suggestions this season and see if your gifts become more welcome than ever:

Give the gift of experience.

So many studies suggest that we best spend our disposable income on life experiences such as concerts, vacations, and meals out. This year, consider giving your mom a spa day, taking your partner to see a favorite band, or sending your kids on a hot-air balloon ride. It’s true that experiences only exist for a brief period while material items can endure for years. However, material items—say, cashmere sweaters, Roombas, or hoverboards—lose their value pretty quickly. The novelty wears off, they break, or new and cooler gear come out. On the other hand, experiences live forever in our memories, providing us with funny, rich, or meaningful stories that stand the test of time.

Nudge people out of their comfort zones.

You may know that your mother-in-law loves shopping at Talbots or that your brother goes to Starbucks every day. So a gift card for one of those chains is, of course, a no-brainer. But it adds little experiential value to a recipient's life—nothing new or special is to be gained here. Ask yourself: What could create a new experience for this person? It doesn’t need to be high-risk. Perhaps there’s a funky new boutique that your MIL has yet to visit, but you suspect it might be up her alley. Maybe an independent tea shop just opened and your brother could break out of his coffee rut by giving it a go. There's value in novelty, and sometimes we need to be nudged out of our comfort zones a little in order to realize that.

Add in anticipation.

Gifts are usually most exciting when you first receive them. You open the box, and maybe there’s an element of surprise and some initial excitement as you tinker with the new gadget or try on your new tie. But then, as much as you like the item, the buzz wears off. The joy, it seems, is often in the build-up. If this is the case, give a gift that keeps on giving—a magazine subscription, a wine-of-the-month club, a snack delivery service. That way, there’s more to anticipate and the excitement can linger much longer than it would with a once-and-done gift.

Say, “I get you.”

Research suggests that a big driver of grateful feelings in long-term relationships is a sense of felt understanding and perceived responsiveness to the self. Simply put, we like to feel that the significant people in our lives truly understand us. Given that, consider what sorts of gifts would really make a person feel understood. Maybe it is a book that touches on an important theme in someone's life or a digital collection of family photos. Perhaps it is an album that brings back fond memories, or a gift certificate for a nice meal and a free night of babysitting for overwhelmed new parents. Get a gift that says, “I get you!"

Share something meaningful to you.

Studies show that when you share a favorite thing with someone—in this case, maybe a treasured album or novel, or a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant—you are also sharing a small piece of yourself: your interests, passions, or personal stories. Be sure to explain your motivation when you give this kind of gift. This way, you’re essentially saying, “This is important to me, and I care enough about you that I want you to experience it too.”

While many argue against the rampant consumerism that can surround the holidays, let’s not forget that giving a well-intended and thoughtful gift can actually be beneficial. It can make the recipient feel appreciated and understood, and make the giver happier, too!