Unpacking the Psychology of Gift-Giving – The New York Times

What makes for a great present? Attention, empathy and a little bit of espionage.

What do diamond earrings, an old window frame, a purple bicycle, a china teapot, a jigsaw puzzle, the flat iron, instant ramen and an espresso machine have in common? They were all gifts that respondents to a not-so-scientific field survey said had been among the best, or worst, they had ever received.

If you were to guess which items were wildly appreciated vs . deeply resented, you would most likely fail spectacularly: The diamond stud earrings bombed, for example , because the giver had not noticed that the recipient, his girlfriend of three years, did not have pierced ears. The instant ramen, on the other hand, was a hit due to the fact that particular flavor, spicy miso, was not widely available, and the particular recipient’s mother, who knew her son was crazy about it, tracked down a case.

When it comes to gift-giving, context is everything. While marketers, influencers and innumerable holiday gift guides might suggest otherwise, whether a present is a home run or a good epic fall short depends less on cost, design, style, presentation or even practicality and more on the giver’s ability to listen, observe plus empathize — and perhaps do a little sleuthing.

“Gifts are an expression of feeling, ” said Dr. Bonnie Buchele, the psychoanalyst in Kansas City, Mo., who has heard her share associated with angst about gifts, both given and received. “So in the particular rush of the holidays — that panic associated with ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to get gifts’ — it is a good idea to take a little time in order to think regarding ‘What do I want to say here with this gift? ’”

Good presents — such as the old window frame a college student’s first serious boyfriend gave her, with a photograph of the girl favorite view mounted inside — show that you have paid attention. Bad gifts make you wonder if the provider knows a person at all — like the floral china teapot given by the mother-in-law to a daughter-in-law whose tastes ran midcentury modern, plus who had (she thought) made this clear that will she preferred brewing tea in a mug. Even worse are gifts that imply criticism, such as a flat metal provided by another mother-in-law in order to a daughter-in-law who always wore her hair curly. (Mothers-in-law fared badly in the not-so-scientific study, whose participants included a pilot, the school crossing guard, a priest, an interior designer and an UPS delivery person, among others. )

“People tend to fall into the trap of not really fully putting the recipient first, ” said Dr . Julian Givi, an assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics.

Indeed, their research indicates that people often give gifts that reflect their own desires and motivations rather than considering the preferences of the receiver. Moreover, present givers have a tendency to focus more upon the ta-da! moment when the chocolate fountain emerges from the particular avalanche associated with packing peanuts rather than on whether the recipient actually wants, will use or even has space for the thing.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the gift giver is really a narcissist, or even terribly inconsiderate. It’s just that individual isn’t great at what is known in psychology as perspective taking, or even seeing things as others would. “People tend to have trouble with that will, ” Dr. Givi stated. But in order to give excellent gifts, you need to cultivate the ability to step outside yourself and really notice people’s passions, choices and personalities.

Pay attention to the topics that enliven and animate the particular people on your gift list. Look in the kinds of things they have in their own homes plus offices, what they wear, the colors they favor, what these people take pictures of and what they will like to eat plus drink. If they are usually into exotic cocktails, for example, they might get the real kick out of LED swizzle sticks or a private mixology class.

Pick up not only upon people’s joys and delights but also on their burdens and aggravations, and think of presents that may alleviate those things. If they complain about never having enough free time, steer clear of time-consuming gifts like jigsaw puzzles or 1, 000-page books. Instead, think about time savers, such as a robot vacuum or hiring someone to fix points around the house that the recipient hasn’t been able to attend to.

Sentimental gifts are by far the most meaningful. Just ask the 53-year-old woman who was moved to tears by a purple bicycle with a big bow on it, given to the girl by her fiancé, who understood that will childhood poverty had deprived her of such playful pleasures.

Giving a gift, especially one you want to make a statement, can be a vulnerable experience. “That’s why some people get so stressed out giving gifts, because it feels too exposing to express their particular emotions and like they won’t perform it right, ” Doctor. Buchele mentioned. People can also have a hard time accepting presents, particularly in case they have got an avoidant attachment style or even fear intimacy. They might subconsciously resent being known within that way, or feel unworthy or even envious because they are not as thoughtful.

How receivers react depends on how secure they really feel in themselves and their relationship along with the giver, said Doctor David Goldberg, a psychoanalyst in Birmingham, Ala., that, like Dr . Buchele, encounters a lot of gift-related anxiety this time of year. He added: “A thoughtful and generous gift may stir up all kinds of conscious and unconscious fears, longings and wishes. What does it mean to accept it? Do I now owe the particular person something? What will it imply for me going forward? Do I need to respond in kind? If I respond within kind, does it mean going to the next level? ” No wonder some present givers tend to err on the side of caution and just buy some thing generic like a scented candle or the gift card, instead of operate the risk of heading personal plus getting this wrong.

If you’re stumped on what to get for somebody, you can usually ask. One couple uses a shared Google doc to keep track from the things they want to receive from one another; the wife therefore knew the girl husband would not be disappointed when she picked the particular fancy espresso machine he had on the list. This particular does raise the question associated with whether complying with a request will be more a good act of service compared to a present. “I would suggest that anyone who says surprise is not really needed in gift-giving possibly has a different love language, ” said Doctor LeeAnn Renninger, the social psychologist and a co-author of the book “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected . ” If becoming surprised is usually important to the person you’re giving in order to, try asking for more general guidance, rather than specific suggestions.

Maybe the best strategy when it comes to gift-giving is to conduct your own not-so-scientific survey. Ask family and friends to tell you regarding the best and worst gifts these people ever received. Not only will you learn what kinds of gifts truly touched or perhaps profoundly hurt them; if you really listen, a person will furthermore develop a better understanding of their own core values, love languages and connection styles. These conversations can help deepen your relationships, which is definitely a gift in itself.

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