It May be Better to Give, but to Give What?

It May be Better to Give, but to Give What?

When gifting, it's the thought that counts.


Social scientists from Stanford University have determined that when it comes to finding "the perfect gift," expensive isn't necessarily better.

The price of a gift matters more to the giver than the recipient, as givers tend to equate "pricy" with "thoughtful."

But they also tend not to understand the perspective of the recipient. The giver knows how much time, effort and money she's put into finding a gift and how much better (or worse) the gift she's chosen is compared to others she considered. But what does the recipient know? Only that which she has been given. Consequently, she appreciates the gift she has and doesn't compare it to the gift she could have had.

The disconnect between giving and receiving is emphasized by the great debate over wish lists (which we've discussed before). Some people think it's tacky to ask for—or be asked—what you want, but others find it helpful in giving and getting presents that are truly wanted. Experiments asking people about wedding and Amazon wish list gifts found that the latter view is more on target: People were much less happy getting gifts outside of their wish lists, and preferred plain old cash to an unwanted gift of the same value.

“With a gift registry,” one of the experimenters, organizational psychologist Francis J. Flynn, told The New York Times, “they’re telling you what they want, and you’re saying, ‘No, you want something else, because I know more about you than you know about yourself.’ ”

It comes down not to whether a gift is perfect, but to whose feelings are more important. Is it the giver, who (presumably) enjoys looking for the perfect gift, or the recipient, who most enjoys something she wants?

It's up to you.

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