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Looking for the Perfect Gift for Your BFF? Help Is Here

Here's how to use psychology and economics to find a gift for your best friend.

Ariel* plopped down in the chair across from me and said, “I want to talk about something that might sound silly, but it’s really important to me.”

gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo
Source: gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo

“I’ve been racking my brain for weeks, trying to figure out a perfect gift for my closest friend,” Ariel said. And I’m coming up with a big nothing. I know presents are materialistic, and our friendship is much more than a simple gift. But still. I want to give her something that lets her know how important she is to me.”

If you've been worrying about the same thing, rest assured, this is not a silly topic. I’ve been hearing similar concerns from a number of clients, friends, and relatives in the past weeks. I’ve also been thinking and writing about the importance of women’s friendships recently, and I am convinced that, while the goal of finding the perfect gift for a friend is not at all unusual, the actual finding of such a gift is.

To put it bluntly: The goal of finding the perfect gift for your friend is pretty close to impossible to achieve.

Here’s the thing: With this gift, you want to show your BFF how much she means to you; and you want to let her know that you know her so well that you can find a gift that will be just what she wanted, without her ever having told you what it was; and you want her to love the gift so much that you will know for sure that she loves you as much as you love her.

And here's the problem. That's an awful lot to ask of one single little gift, no matter how big, or expensive, or clever, or thoughtful, or brilliant it actually is.

As a psychotherapist I am interested in the meanings that we invest in many of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, often without realizing that we’re doing it. And by asking a gift to be “perfect,” we are investing it with all sorts of meanings that go way beyond the gift itself. The title of Brené Brown’s wildly popular book The Gift of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you should be and embrace who you are is a giveaway to the hidden meaning of a perfect gift.

Ariel and I began to sort through some of the things she wanted from the gift she hadn’t found for her best friend. Many of them may be what you are looking for as well. Here are some of the things we discovered: the gift should prove that she was special, that she knew her friend better than anyone else did, and that she was her friend's most special, most important, and most loved friend in the world.

Ariel’s fantasy was that her friend would squeal with pleasure when she saw what Ariel had given her, would hug her tightly, and would tell her, “You really are the very best!!!”

mimagephotography / 123RF Stock Photo
Source: mimagephotography / 123RF Stock Photo

If this feels at all like what you are imagining your friend will do when she opens the perfect gift from you, then here are some things to keep in mind while you are shopping.

  1. Your friendship is not built on gifts, but on your relationship. And if it is a strong and meaningful relationship, your friend cares about you – as you do about her – because of who you are and what you mean to her, not because of the gifts you do or don’t give her.
  2. Gift-giving is often stressful, because it is difficult to shop for another adult, no matter how close you may be. In his book Scroogenomics: Why you shouldn’t buy presents for the holidays, economist Joel Waldfogel suggests that we would all be happier during the holiday season. Furthermore, he says, we wouldn't waste money on items that will never be used, and the economy would be much better off, if we would stop trying to buy gifts for our adult friends, relatives, and loved ones.
  3. That said, you’re probably still going to look for a wonderful gift for your dear friend. So instead of looking for the perfect present, try to find a gift that reflects your friendship – a subscription to a podcast that you both would enjoy and that you can talk about, or a dinner at a restaurant you both like.
  4. A problem in buying a piece of jewelry or clothing is that many friends appreciate one another in part because of their similarities, but in part because of their differences. If you and your friend have different tastes – as is often the case – you simply may not be able to pick out something that fits with her taste. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good friends, and it doesn’t mean that you have failed. It’s part of your friendship. So, don’t focus on buying something that she will wear or that will fit in with her living room décor. (Go back to the second suggestion in this list.)

Just remember: you might not give her a perfect gift, or even the best gift that she gets this season; but the gift you share, that will keep on giving, is yourself – with all of your imperfections – and your friendship. Nothing can beat that.

Finally, consider this piece of advice that Anna Quindlen gave to the graduating class of Mt Holyoke College: “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Your friend loves you because you are who you are. She knows that you are not perfect, and in fact, she might not love you nearly as much if you were somehow able to achieve perfection (which, by the way, is humanly impossible to achieve). So stop looking for the perfect present, and see if you can find something that simply tells her that you’re thinking about her.

* names and identifying info changed for privacy



Brené Brown The Gift of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you should be and embrace who you are, Hazelden Publishers, 2010.

F. Diane Barth I Know How You Feel: The joy and heartbreak of friendship in women's lives. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publisher, Feb 2018.

Amie M.Gordon 3 Mistakes We Make as Gift Givers and How to Correct Them/ Psychology Today

Anna Quindlen Being Perfect, Random House Publishers, 2009.

Joel Waldfogel Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, Princeton University Press, 2009.