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Should you just splurge to show how much you care?
Research has actually shown that spending more does not always guarantee a well-received gift. One study found that the more expensive a gift, the more givers expected recipients to appreciate it. But while givers thought spending more conveyed more thoughtfulness, receivers didn’t associate the price with their level of appreciation.
"It seems pretty intuitive that if you spend more, you’re going to get a better gift. It turns out that there’s no evidence that recipients are sensitive to the cost of a gift when they figure out how much they’re going to enjoy that gift,” says Jeff Galak, an associate professor of marketing at the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business in the US city of Pittsburgh.
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Galak says the trick for giving a great gift is to think past the fleeting moment of actually handing it over.
"When givers give gifts, they’re trying to optimise on the moment they give the gift and see the smile on the recipient’s face right in that moment,” says Galak. “But what recipients care about is how much value they’re going to derive from that over a longer time period.”
In other words, it might not be exciting to watch a friend or family member open the gift of a movie-streaming subscription, so you might be less likely to give one. But a recipient may actually love it, since it’s a gift that can be enjoyed often over time.
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Galak also suggests not getting hung up on giving the most unique gift out there. Sometimes something that many people desire or many others have can be exactly what someone wants.
One study showed that we tend to focus on a recipient’s unique traits and personality as we shop for them. But this hyper-specificity leads us to ignore other aspects of their wants and needs, which may make us buy them an inferior gift. We also tend to want to buy different gifts for multiple people, even if they might all be happier with the same thing – and might never compare gifts at all.
In order to feel like a good gift giver, people erroneously feel like they need to diversify the gifts, even at the cost of giving the best present, according to Galak. You might also overlook buying something that you own because you don’t want to undermine your own sense of individuality.
undermine [ˌʌndərˈmaɪn]:vt. 破坏，渐渐破坏
So those trainers of yours that your friend loves? Don’t avoid gifting a matching pair just because you want to be unique.
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To shop better, Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada and co-author ofHappy Money, suggests starting with something you have in common with the recipient. She says, you should focus on what you share and pick a gift from there.
For an even stronger gift think about a common interest you share and buy something that your recipient can experience – say, concert tickets or a cooking class. Research has also shown that experiential gifts can bring you and the recipient closer, even if you don’t experience the gift with your recipient.
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If you have nothing in common, though, Dunn recommends just asking the recipient what they want. In fact, research shows that people are more appreciative of gifts they ask for than ones they don’t.
"People want to be creative and surprise the recipient,” says Dunn, “but the better gift will be whatever it is they say they want.”
Galak agrees that the simplest way to make a person happy with a gift is asking them what they want. It’s not an answer most people like, he says, because good gifts are supposed to be a ‘surprise’ – even though science has disproven this.
"Asking somebody what they want is seen as taboo. And that’s a shame,” he says. “We would all be better off if we gave people what they want.”