Many social norms dictate gift-giving. These social norms include what, when, and how to gift gifts.

These norms do not aim to ensure recipients get the gifts they want. The recipient and the giver can have different definitions of a good gift.

Research from behavioral science has shown that, even though gifts seem insignificant to the givers, recipients may be more grateful than they realize.

 Giving money

Gift-givers underestimate the personal value of monetary gifts. It is common for gift-givers to assume that recipients prefer cash over traditional gifts when the reverse is true. The recipients are less likely to accept personal gifts than they think.

It is this that gift-givers often don’t know it. Gift-givers are more likely to think about the recipient’s long-lasting qualities and preferences and pick gifts that reflect those. Gift-givers are more likely than not to consider their recipients’ individual needs and give them gifts that will allow them to do what is best for them.

Gifts to recipients make them more likely to receive the gift they desire, making them more inclined to choose multi-purpose gifts.

 Giving practical gifts

A classic plotline in sitcoms is the gift-giving gaffe. One prime example is when a husband buys his wife a vacuum cleaner or other practical item, but the occasion calls out for something more sentimental.

This isn’t a mistake, as some people believe. 

Gift certificates to the best restaurant in the state might not be the most memorable. It might take three hours to get to the restaurant. Your recipient may feel that a gift certificate to a less-known but more convenient restaurant is a better option.

Even the most mundane gifts, like the vacuum cleaner or toothbrush, can make great gifts. Tulane University’s Emily Rosenzweig and Williams have demonstrated that recipients are more likely to choose useful gifts than fun ones, despite what their givers may think.

The most useful gifts are the ones that people have already received. We ask that gift-givers put less emphasis on the fun and more on their utility.

 Giving an “uncreative gift

Givers feel pressured by their recipients to give creative gifts.

Gift-givers sometimes ignore recipients’ wishes and gift registry, even though they are given instructions. Givers believe unsolicited gift ideas are just as valuable as those on wish lists and registries. However, recipients prefer to get the gifts they requested.

Research by LeBoeuf & Steffel suggests that gift-givers might choose to give gifts they believe will be appreciated more than others. Gift-givers may feel more thoughtful if they buy something unique and creative for each recipient. Recipients will want the best of both, even though it is unlikely that they will share gifts.

Gift givers should think about the gift recipients before choosing a gift. It is more likely that multiple recipients will receive the same gift.

 Don’t gift a gift that you don’t wish to be wrapped

Many people believe that gift exchanges are about giving gifts that can be wrapped in bows but left unwrapped. The truth is that gifts aren’t the most important. Research has shown that people spend more money on experiences than goods. This holds for personal and gift purchases as well.

Still, looking for the perfect gift?

Gift-giving can be stressful, especially during holiday seasons. Knowing the good gift-giving rules can reduce stress and make both recipients and givers feel happier.

Even if they disregard this advice, there is still hope. Regifting is another taboo. Gabrielle Adams and her colleagues from the London Business School claim that recipients aren’t as concerned about regifting as givers.

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