Gift-Giving Tips That Help Avoid Holiday Heartbreak

THE HOLIDAY SEASON REVEALS inspired gift-givers, those whose presents always have the “wow factor,” showing up the rest of us. I have been studying gift-giving in the hopes of improving my own skills. My (not exactly scientific) research brings to light two primary reasons why a gift can fall flat. Successful gift-giving is sometimes thwarted by a fear that the wrong gift will disappoint the recipient. This fear causes people to take the “safe” path and give a generic, token gift. A gift card is practical and always welcome, but it is not exactly a unique gift.

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The second reason for gift-giving disenchantment starts with the unwitting but mistaken idea that a recipient would love the same gift as the giver. The challenge lies in giving something the other person would truly value, based on their personality and interests.

There is hope; my informal research indicates four ways to shine as a gift giver. To begin, focus on the recipient’s definition of a great gift. Perhaps receiving a massage sounds like the perfect present. But for the recipient, using it would cause a scheduling conundrum, making the gift feel more like a burden than a pleasure. A magazine subscription or a couple of good books may seem uninspired but in this case might be better. Sometimes this means giving a seemingly boring gift. You might think giving money reflects no effort. But it is exactly what a cash-strapped teen is thrilled to receive. Giving something “unique” may feel good to the giver, but not reflect the receiver’s tastes.

Second, include a gift receipt. For the right recipient, gifting adventurously will be appreciated. But don’t take it personally if your choice isn’t the right fit. A thick skin and a gift receipt can do a lot of good.

In some cases it is appropriate to ask the person what they would like. I always ask my children and then give them exactly what they want (within understood budgetary parameters). My mom wants an Amazon gift card for every occasion because she uses it to download books. However lackluster it seems, I am extremely happy to give it her because I know she will truly enjoy it.

Finally, everyone wants to make sure not to spend too little, but it is also important to not overspend. It can put the recipient in an uncomfortable position; feeling obligated to respond in kind, even if it is financially difficult to do so. A great gifter takes into account the fiscal appropriateness of the gesture.

Throughout this holiday season, remember that it really is the thought that counts—and the gift receipt!

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dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.