October is a big birthday month in our family. Both my sons have October birthdays, as do my sister and a niece. In fact, all of these birthdays fall within seven days of each other. And October is followed hard by November (my mother) and that leads to December. Finding the best gift for everyone in a relatively short three month span can be tricky.
Like it or not, gifts have meaning, and the message we give with our gifts can linger in a person’s mind for a long, long time. Remember that wedding or graduation gift that you still can’t figure out? And sometimes, there’s a big disconnect between what the recipient thinks we are saying and what we are actually intending to say. Take cash, for instance. The giver may be saying “you deserve a treat, so here’s something to make that possible.” But the recipient may hear “here’s some cash – you figure it out since I didn’t have time/think it was important/didn’t care.”
With all this gift giving, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed trying to come up with the “best” gift. And that’s just with family. When faced with trying to find the perfect gift for teachers, neighbors, and all the people that make our lives a little easier, it can tip us into a frenzy. It’s easy to go with the default gift – cash or a gift card. And in some cases, that may be exactly the right choice. But with a little bit of knowledge, you can give a great gift that makes both the giver and the recipient feel happy and special.
There’s a lot of research on gift giving, and it seems to all boil down to a few simple rules for the best gifts:
1.The best gifts tend to be the things the recipient asked for.
- Gifts that can be enjoyed later, maybe long after the gift is opened, are often more satisfying for the recipient than a gift that has an immediate impact.
- Expensive gifts may not be saying what you think they are saying.
- Experiences are good.
There have been years I spent a lot of time thinking about the “perfect” birthday or holiday gift for my kids. I’ve learned, the hard way, that it’s better to just ask. For their upcoming birthdays, I asked both sons what would be the best gift. This year the best gifts are warm socks (the older one is in Minnesota) and a reusable coffee mug with a handle. My sister and mother always say “you don’t need to get me anything.” Not helpful. But, over the course of the year I’ve heard a few “I wish” statements that I’ve stored away. And while it may feel a bit boring to the giver, research shows that recipients are happiest when they get what they asked for!
Rule No. 1: The Surprise Gift is rarely the Best Gift.
We all want to come up with the “perfect” gift – the one the recipient doesn’t know she wants, but that will make her incredibly happy. But research shows that, just like “the heart wants what the heart wants” when people receive a gift, they really want to receive what they have asked for. As givers, we like the idea of the surprise gift that seems to say “I know you so well, I know you will love this.” Although we tend to equate “thoughtful” with “Surprise!” thoughtful is expressed best when we show we have been listening carefully and selected something the recipient actually wanted. Recipients have spent a fair bit of time thinking about what will make them happy, and they tend to ask for those things. So the socks my older son asked for? He’ll be happy if he gets them. Are socks exciting? Not usually. But he really wants warm socks for winter. So, you know…. Son, if you’re reading, I’m sorry if the surprise has been spoiled
Rule No. 2: Some gifts that keep on giving really are the best.
We’ve all made jokes about seasonal colds being “the gift that keeps on giving.” But in some instances, there are gifts that keep on going that make the recipient really happy. In general, givers focus on the exchange, often hoping the gift will be appreciated right then. Recipients, on the other hand, tend to appreciate the gift most at the time it is used. So, as much as the giver wants to get an immediate “wow” reaction it may be that the recipient will get a more joy from a gift they can use later. Long term gifts, like subscriptions, can be the best gifts, particularly if the subscription is to something you know the recipient enjoys. Each time your best friend receives the benefit of that subscription, she’ll think of you.
Rule No. 3: Value is not the same as expensive.
As givers, we want our gifts to be “really nice.” How often have you wondered whether you were spending enough, or too little? We tend to think the cost of the gift conveys how much we value the recipient. Unfortunately, that’s not always the way things are perceived. Rather than focusing on the cost of the gift, it’s important to think about whether the gift will be of value to the recipient. Some mismatches are obvious – a plant of the month for the person that travels all the time, or that just really struggles to keep plants alive, wouldn’t be a good match. Similarly, one really expensive or fancy gift that a person is reluctant to use (remember your mother’s “good towels”?) can create a lot of conflicting feelings. When a person is not in a position to reciprocate an expensive gift, those conflicting emotions can really get in the way of a relationship.
Again, a gift that is of value to the recipient, even if a more expensive choice was available, is often the better gift.
Rule No. 4: Experience matters
Giving someone an experience, rather than something tangible, is often the best gift. Whether it’s a chance to try something new or recreating something that holds a lot of personal significance, gifting an experience lets the recipient double the good feelings. There’s the feeling that comes with receiving the gift and the good feelings that come with having the experience. And the experience doesn’t have to be big – a trip to Rome or a day at the spa. It can simply be a chance to have an experience that the recipient has expressed interest in or that will bring them pleasure.
When I put together the Gratitude gifts for this holiday season, I spent a lot of time thinking about makes a gift that you will enjoy giving and receiving. Each of the gifts we’re offering is an experience. Perhaps not in the “let’s go out on the town” sense of an experience, but an experience none the less. These are gifts meant to be used – not stored in the cupboard with the good towels or the good dishes. Bath bombs, face masks and the goodies included in these gift sets provide the recipient a chance to experience a moment of selfcare. Because we all know that thoughtful is better than expensive, these gifts include things that make the experience better. You’ll find a headband in the face mask gift set, because having a way to keep your hair out of your face makes the experience a little better. That’s the same reason we always include a brush with the face mask – it makes the experience better. These gifts last a while. Whether you choose a gift with a bar of soap or a face mask, there’s more than one use in the gift. And, no matter who is receiving the gift, the fact that you chose something that specifically focuses on gratitude, the message is clear that you’re telling the recipient they matter.
The gift sets will be available November 1, but sneak peeks will be on the site later this week – we’ll send you an email to let you know when. And, if the website gods cooperate, you will be able to pre-order. We also want to make the best gifts the most affordable gifts, so you will be receiving your subscriber code to use in November.
And last but certainly not least, out biggest launch ever is coming on Black Friday. I can’t tell you all the details yet but let me just say it will tick all of the best gift rules: people have asked for this, it’s affordable, it’s an experience and it lasts a while (at least three months, hint hint!)
Why Certain Gifts are Great to Give but Not to Get: A Framework for Understanding Errors in Gift Giving.