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Rules for Gift Giving

Sonja Haggert

IT’S THE MOST wonderful time of year—for trying to figure out what gifts to give. If you’re like me, you may be wringing your hands. But some studies and a bit of psychology could help.

While searching my favorite websites for gift ideas, I came across a helpful article by psychologist Jill Suttie. She offered five suggestions.

The first is to make sure the gift is practical. I didn’t see that one coming. Practical gifts are remembered. Expensive gifts aren’t necessarily better. Please don’t tell my husband.

You’ll be able to relate to No. 2 if you have small children: Initial enthusiasm doesn’t equate to long-term satisfaction. Have you ever given a child that toy he wanted, only to see him set it aside after a few days or even a few hours, never to be touched again? Suttie says we shouldn’t aim to wow the recipient momentarily with something flashy, but rather give a present likely to deliver longer-term happiness.

Third, people prefer gifts they’ve asked for rather than something you thought they’d appreciate. I can relate to this. Growing up, my mother rarely bought something on the spot when I wanted it. But often, I would later find it under the Christmas tree or as a birthday gift. I’m sure this was her way of ensuring her only child didn’t become a spoiled brat. I hope she succeeded.

Fourth, there’s been much talk about giving experiences over things. According to science, this brings about feelings of closeness between the gift-giver and the recipient.

Finally, there was one caution I found interesting: Don’t give folks a gift if they don’t want one. Such gifts are seen as self-serving, creating a sense of indebtedness.

Suttie’s article reminded me that the point of giving gifts is to strengthen relationships. That helped reduce the commercial aspect of the holiday for me, and also made me look at shopping a little more positively.

Now, about that diamond bracelet I’ve been eyeing. I told my husband it would definitely strengthen our relationship.

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