Are you making these gift-giving mistakes?

Research busts these gift-giving myths

By Elizabeth Cottrell

“Five studies show that gift recipients are more appreciative of gifts they explicitly request than those they do not.” This is the startling conclusion by Francesca Gino and Francis J. Flynn, researchers from Harvard and Stanford respectively, in the September 2011 “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.” They revealed another unexpected finding:

Gift givers think they should buy extravagant gifts and think of creative ways to present them. What gift recipients really want is something useful, something they can enjoy…OR something they’ve actually asked for.

Don’t you find that enormously liberating?

I’ve never been good at thinking up creative ways to impress people with thoughtful and clever gift-giving. You know the type – the ones who find out you love Italian food and give you an extravagantly stuffed basket of imported Italian delicacies (in a basket shaped like a gondola), beribboned with the colors of the flag of Italy, delivered by a violinist who plays you an Italian love song while you’re opening your gift.

Sorry … I got carried away. But seriously, if choosing gifts is hard for you, you know exactly what I mean, don’t you?

I tend to be simple, straightforward, and oh, so practical. More often than not, I’ll make a gift selection based on what I’d like to get myself, so it’s never frilly or fluffy or decadent. I’ve been feeling guilty for years thinking this was somehow boring, but now it turns out I’ve been doing what most people want. Hallelujah!

Is it a cop out to give money?

Here’s another myth busted by these studies: Giving money is not as thoughtful as a purchased gift. Wrong! For a significant number of people, cash is both enjoyed and appreciated as much or more than a non-cash gift.

But what if she won’t give me any hints?

It doesn’t do any good to have scientific proof that your wife (or girlfriend or mother) prefers getting gifts she’s requested if she never makes any requests. How often have you heard, “Oh, I don’t need anything!”? Arggggghhh!

This little trick often helps me get unstuck:

Picture her in your mind’s eye; take just a few minutes to think about what you know about her likes and dislikes, her life, her routines, her reading preferences, her activities and hobbies, her needs or wants. This little exercise alone can often result in thinking of just the right thing.

If you’re still stumped, perhaps one of these will do the trick:

• Mixes for soups, sauces, and casseroles can be just the things for a busy professional or single person.
• A scarf or gloves might be welcome accessories for folks in colder climates.
• If he’s just bought a new car, get him an emergency kit, flashlight, or a baseball cap with the car logo on it.
• If she likes to write notes, get her a box of cards or stationery with some postage stamps.
• If he’s housebound or living alone, try a book or DVD movie or a meal delivery.
• Stay-at-home moms might appreciate some babysitting or a girls’ day out.
• If she’s older, give her a gift of your time and make an appointment to help her with whatever is worrying her the most (e.g., cleaning an attic, going through photographs or letters, organizing her recipes).
• If a couple is downsizing with limited space, they might appreciate a gift to charity in their honor (The Shenandoah Community Foundation has lots of charitable causes on its website to give you ideas).
• Consider a wreath or table centerpiece for someone who’s unable to do their own decorating. A poinsettia gives an instant splash of Christmas color.
• An amaryllis bulb (or other flowering bulb) is a reliable people-pleaser.
• Someone who doesn’t drive might love to be taken to the movies or a local concert.
• Everyone seems to love homemade Chex mix, Christmas cookies, cheese balls, or sugared pecans. Not only are they delicious, but also your recipient will appreciate having something to pull out and serve to unexpected company.

Don’t wait until the last minute

Procrastinating will increase your stress level, and the gift selection only become smaller and less appealing. Get that paper and pencil out right now and make this year’s list the best ever!

Elizabeth H. Cottrell of Maurertown shares inspiration and guidance about the power of connection at Heartspoken.com. She teaches small business connection strategies at RiverwoodWriter.com and can be reached at elizabethc@riverwoodwriter.com.