Researchers suggest focusing on gifts that the recipient will appreciate in the long term.
According to a 2015 poll conducted by Gallup, Americans plan to spend an average of $830 on Christmas gifts, with around 30 percent planning to spend at least $1,000.
While many of us will try to steer clear of spending our Christmas gift budget on the obligatory pair of socks for dad or toiletries for grandma, a new review suggests these "cliché" gifts may not be such a bad idea after all.
Researchers reveal that many of us base gift selection on how the recipient will react upon unwrapping a present, whereby recipients are actually more interested in how practical the gift is and how it will benefit them in the long term.
Study leader Jeff Galak, of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and colleagues recently published their findings in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.
Recipients prefer gifts that 'provide value over time'
From a review of past studies investigating gift-giving, the team identified a discrepancy between a recipient's gift expectations and a giver's motivation behind choosing a gift, which may result in a disappointed recipient.
"What we found was that the giver wants to 'wow' the recipient and give a gift that can be enjoyed immediately, in the moment, while the recipient is more interested in a gift that provides value over time," explains Galak.
"We are seeing a mismatch between the thought processes and motivations of gift givers and recipients," Galak adds.
"Put [it] another way, there may be times when the vacuum cleaner, a gift that is unlikely to wow most recipients when they open it on Christmas Day, really ought to be at the top of the shopping list as it will be well used and liked for a long time."
The researchers point to many instances of gift-giving errors driven by this "mismatch," some of which may sound familiar:
- Attempting to "surprise" the recipient by presenting them with an unrequested gift, ignoring any gift lists they may have compiled
- Focusing on material gifts that will be initially well received, when the recipient would get more enjoyment later on from an experiential gift, such as a massage
- Giving donations in the recipient's name and other "socially responsible" gifts; while these might be appreciated at first, they are unlikely to be valued by the recipient later on.
So what can we do to make sure we give our loved ones the perfect gift this Christmas?
In a nutshell, the researchers recommend empathizing with the recipient and focusing on gifts that will be appreciated further down the road.
"We exchange gifts with the people we care about, in part, in an effort to make them happy and strengthen our relationships with them.
By considering how valuable gifts might be over the course of the recipient's ownership of them, rather than how much of a smile it might put on recipients' faces when they are opened, we can meet these goals and provide useful, well-received gifts."