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The true meaning behind gift giving

Have you ever wondered why we give gifts, and what makes the ‘perfect gift’? One of the Think Forward Initiatives leading researchers, Laura Straeter, reminds us all that Christmas is more than what we buy at the store.
Posted on December 18, 2019

The shopping malls and streets are in a flurry in the weeks prior to Christmas. With many of us on the hunt for the perfect gift for our loved ones. But did you know on average we are spending GBP 420 per person in the UK (Statista, 2018) on Christmas gifts alone?

Laura Straeter, one of the Think Forward Initiatives leading researcher, would like to remind us all that we need to be mindful of our finances over this festive season.

The science behind gift giving comes from the fact that we want to express to someone we care about them and that they’re important to us (Cheal, 1987). “But the best gifts aren’t necessarily the ones we spend the most money on. There are different ways we can boost the value a gift has to the recipient. For example, giving an experience often is well received,” said Laura.

So, before you hit the shops to find the perfect gift, here are Laura’s top three tips when it comes to gift giving:

Stick to the Wish List

People sometimes are very explicit about the things they like. While wish lists may take away the surprise in finding the perfect gift, they definitely will help you leave a great impression (Gino & Flynn, 2011). The wish list helps you pick a gift that aligns with the recipient’s tastes. Gifts that relate to the recipients are often very powerful (Ward & Broniarczyk, 2011) because they show that you take notice and listen.

Money, Money, Money

But what if you don’t have a wish list and you don’t know the recipients that well or they’re really hard to buy for? Perhaps you are considering giving them cash this year so they can buy something they truly want? Don’t do this! Research (Webley, Lea & Portalska, 1983) found that money is unacceptable as a gift in many contexts and gifts of the equivalent value to the cash gift are appreciated much more by the recipient.

When in doubt, try to buy a gift that reflects something about you as the giver (Paolacci, Straeter & de Hooge, 2015). Recipients are also very impressed by personal gifts that reflect you and your relationship. After all, it is the thought that counts!

Tied up with a bow

Believe it or not but gift wrapping can take your gift from zero to 100 on the expectation scale. People actually deem gifts that are wrapped up beautifully and with care to be of a higher premium value (Rixom, Mas & Rixom, 2019), which can increase their expectations of the gift. But on the flip side to this, if the gift is wrapped a little less perfectly, perhaps by the little members of your family, the recipient will not have too high expectations. Keep in mind, a gift that is nicely wrapped and tied up with a bow can increase the receivers satisfaction.

It is important to remember that Christmas is a time to show our loved ones we care about them. It isn’t about spending more than we can afford.

Merry Christmas from the Think Forward Initiative.