Gift-Giving Strategies that Orient You Away from What You Want to Give and Toward What Others Need

Gift-giving is a complicated phenomenon. Don't believe it? Then why do people tie themselves in knots trying to engineer the perfect gift-giving experience only to be disappointed over and over? That's because, like all human interactions, psychology comes into play. When it comes down to it, the giver can't think of the receiver's thoughts or vice versa. But don't stress! This roundup will walk you through some principles that make choosing a great gift a cinch.

Be a Problem Solver

Priority #1 for giving gifts is to be a problem solver. This principle guides every other consideration. From the recipient's perspective, accumulating stuff may feel great, at least in the short term. But having a flashy new gadget might not necessarily improve their life. On the other hand, taking responsibilities off their hands, alleviating pain or annoyances, and helping them live more sustainably are all excellent problem-solving approaches.

How to Choose Great Gifts

The phrase "it's the thought that counts" may not be accurate 100% of the time, but the key to gift-giving is paying attention. You may know the recipient very well, especially if it's a spouse or other family member, but they know themselves even better (at least in theory). So, listen! Even if you don't ask, they will likely tell you what they need in 1,000 different ways. When they do, consider the following approaches to help meet their needs.

Give Experiences Instead of Things

Even if it's not shared, recipients feel closer and more appreciative of the giver when the gift is an experience instead of an object. One simple reason for this is that the recipient judges the present on the impact of the experience, not the feeling of receiving it upfront. So, concert tickets can be a great idea. However, experiences can solve problems and meet needs, too. For example, consider a gift for an expecting or new mother. Paying for breathing classes or "Mommy and Me" yoga could be a great way to take some stress out of the new parent experience.

Consider Long-Term Use

Shock value can be great at the moment, but flash often fades in no time flat. Instead, consider getting a gift that serves a practical, everyday function for the recipient. Psychologists have shown that givers focus too much on the moment of the big reveal, whereas recipients tend to judge the value added to their life after taking ownership. If your friend or loved one cooks every day, consider durable cookware. A well-made and reliable tool can have a similar effect. Whatever the object, basic staples of the recipient's everyday activity can be powerful reminders that you care. 


Research has shown that we tend to overthink gifts for the people closest to us. It's because we want to show how much we care that we go rogue, avoiding their Christmas list at all costs just to impress them. As a result, they have to buy the things they really want for themselves. Of course, they may never give you a list, but complaints and wishes make their way into everyday conversations. Help with gas for the car, a timely student loan payment, or baby supplies during tough times can substantially improve someone's quality of life.

Don't Break the Bank

The disconnect between givers and recipients persists. Generally, the giver cares much more about the price than the target of the gift. The givers tend to believe that a higher price will suggest a more profound thoughtfulness, but there is little to no association between the two in the recipient's mind. As with everything, the price should be within your means. Instead of a dollar amount, think of how much time and effort you can save for the other person.

Key Takeaways 
  • Eliminate Annoyances – Does your friend or family member complain about a leaky faucet, drafty window, or the morning sun on their face? Maybe helping them out with blackout shades or a gift card for a plumber is the ticket. It's even better if you go ahead and schedule it for them.
  • Adopt Responsibilities – If you live close and have a limited budget, consider volunteering to give them some time to rest. For example, walk the dog, babysit, or do the laundry for them.
  • Outsource – Maybe you're not available? Try a gift certificate for home-delivered meals or a cleaning service. You could also consider buying clothes that don't need to be ironed at all, to begin with.