5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Make Your Gifts Meaningful

5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Make Your Gifts Meaningful

Holiday gift buying can feel a little empty, when all of those endless lists, long lines at the mall & dollars spent lead to a 5-minute frenzy of flying wrapping paper & ribbon.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Years of scientific research on gift giving have turned up a few ways to make the whole process a little more fulfilling. The following tips can assist make gift giving more meaningful for both the giver & the recipient.

1. Know the person

"The most significant thing in the exchanging of gifts is it shows that you really know the person well, & you really care approximately them," said Ryan Howell, a psychologist at San Francisco State University & co-founder of beyondthepurchase.org.

That generally means tailoring the gift to the recipient. For example, Howell told Live Science, research finds that people who want to buy meaningful gifts don't buy the same gift for two of their friends — even if those friends don't know each other, would never compare the gifts & would both enjoy the same item.

It's moreover significant to consider practicality. A 2014 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that gift givers focus too much on the desirability of potential gifts & not enough on how the recipient might use those gifts. In one study, gift-giving participants tended to select gifts that were desirable yet impractical (e.g., a gift certificate for an expensive yet faraway restaurant) rather than those that were more practical yet less desirable (e.g., a gift certificate for a closer yet cheaper restaurant). But the participants who were receiving the gifts actually preferred the more practical option.

In other words, gift givers shouldn't select presents based on what they would like to donate yet rather on what the recipient would really want to receive. [Avoiding Identity Theft: 10 Tips for Online Holiday Shoppers]

Gift giving "is an expression of truly seeing the other person & knowing what they want," said Allison Pugh, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who studies consumption.

2. Donate in their name

Giving gifts to friends or to charity is linked to happiness. Research suggests that happier people donate more to charity, & that giving more makes people happier, creating a positive feedback loop, according to a 2009 paper from Harvard Business School. 

Moreover, charity-related happiness is highest when people donate in a way that fosters social connection. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Happiness & Development found that people felt happier after giving in a personalized manner, via a friend or relative, than after giving an anonymous donation. So, try giving to the less fortunate in someone's name this holiday season — it might donate you both a holiday glow.

3. Give handmade goods or hand-me-downs

New & store-bought is not always best. A study published in March 2015 in the Journal of Marketing found that people prefer buying homemade items for loved ones & were even willing to pay as much as 17 percent more for homemade things versus mass-produced items. The findings suggest that people feel that homemade items show more love, & love is what they want to express to the gift recipient.

Family heirlooms may be another satisfactory gift option. A 2009 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that when families hand down even a very depersonalized asset — money — through the generations, the symbolic value of the cash is greater than the numerical value alone.

4. Don't go overboard with anti-consumerism

On the other hand, don't panic if your kid's Christmas list looks like the entire index of the Toys R Us catalog. A little bit of commercialism can assist kids make connections with their peers.

"Children's stuff has a really intense social component, & by that, I mean it's almost a language that they speak with each other," said Pugh, who has studied how kids navigate consumerism.

Having some of the same "stuff" that others have helps kids find usual ground with their peers, Pugh has found, & that should be comforting to parents who don't want to quash their children's hopes on Christmas Day. That's not to say that materialism is to be encouraged, Pugh said, yet rather that material possessions do have enriching aspects.

The satisfactory news, Pugh added, is that kids are adaptable — kids who don't have the hottest toys or games often learn approximately them in other ways, so they can engage in these conversations anyway. [Gift Ideas for Kids: Best Educational Toys & Games of 2015]

5. Give experiences, not objects

If there's a golden rule of gifts, though, it's this: Give experiences rather than items. People who receive experiential gifts, such as concert tickets or a zoo membership, feel more connected to the gift giver than people who received material items, according to researchers from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The giver & the recipient don't have to share the experiential gifts in order to obtain this connectivity boon.

However, a recent paper by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis & Seoul National University found that people fail to realize that experiential gifts are a better choice than something tied with a bow. Part of the problem, the researchers found, is that people hesitate to donate experiential gifts to people they aren't very close to.

Getting people an experiential gift is actually a safe bet, Howell said. People who expect a material gift who obtain an experiential one instead report being satisfied anyway, his research has found. In contrast, those who expect an experiential gift yet obtain an item instead are very disappointed.

Experiential gifts are particularly meaningful for kids, Pugh said. Doing something with a child builds memories that last longer than mere stuff.

"If gifts are approximately expressing & forging love, one of the best ways to do that is with your own time," Pugh said. "That will always be a really powerful gift."

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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