Santa School

By DiAnne Crown

September 29, 2017 4 min read

The best gifts aren't necessarily the most expensive, surprising or best wrapped, say online gift gurus. Instead, the perfect present is usually practical, thoughtful and on the wish list. Here are five tips from the experts.

*Simple Gift, Simple Wrapping

According to Yale University's marketing and psychology professor Nathan Novemsky, over-the-top wrapping can promise more than it delivers. Elaborate packaging increases the anticipation of a gift and also increases the chance of the gift-receiver being disappointed if the present doesn't fulfill expectations. "It's like giving someone a Sears gift card in a Tiffany box," says Novemsky.

*Practical and Uncomplicated

People tend to overthink gifts, says Brian Handwerk in his Smithsonian.com article "How to Give the Best Gifts, According to Science." This leads to disappointment on both ends as gift-givers expect a greater response and receivers don't consider the gift useful. "For instance, givers may choose a complicated computer program with lots of features because they think it will be seen as more valuable," says Handwerk. "But receivers may prefer an easy-to-use program with fewer features." Instead, think about the convenience of the gift on a personal level. Would it be easy for you to use? Would you want this gift? By answering these questions yourself, you can gain insight on how the recipient might feel.

*All About the Receiver

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow discusses the unfortunate "all about me" gift in a Time article, "Worst. Gift. Ever. The 6 Kinds of Presents You Should Never Give," such as expensive diamond earrings you can't afford or a donation to the gift-giver's favorite charity. "If it was to one of MY favorite charities that would be different," emphasizes Glenn, a 50-something manager Yallow interviewed. "Sometimes I think it's not even about the charity, they think they'll look altruistic. Either way, it's not really a gift if you ask me."

Other nice-try gifts include the obvious regift, statement gifts that "typically offer disapproval or some kind of judgmental commentary aimed at the recipient," and non-gifts. A non-gift is "something you would have purchased anyway," says Yarrow. "Socks, frying pans, and hair brushes have all achieved the 'worst gift' designation by the people I've spoken with."

*Following the List

"I used to think my husband's family was super weird for giving one another gift lists at Christmas and on birthdays," says health and psychology writer Sunny Sea Gold. "Where's the surprise? The effort? The proof that you know the person so well that you can divine exactly what he or she wants without asking?" However, as people get old, they lose the desire for useless, though thoughtful, junk that they didn't want. According to research from Harvard and Stanford business schools, recipients are happier when they receive exactly what they asked for.

*The Gift Trifecta

According to Yarrow, there's a magical trifecta to giving the perfect gift: generosity, insight and emotional impact. During Yarrow's research in consumer psychology, she spoke with many people regarding holiday gifts. One woman, Margaret, is 81 years old and has been given many presents in her life. Yet her favorite was a flower box that her son David put in the balcony outside her room in her assisted living facility. Says Margaret, "David came up with the idea on his own and surprised me with it. I hadn't realized how much I missed my garden until he installed it, the whole thing made me so happy."

This gift embraced all three essential elements of the perfect gift -- generosity of time and effort, insight into the heart of the receiver and the emotional impact that comes from presenting a genuine and welcome surprise.

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