4 Tips for Giving Your Loved Ones Truly Meaningful Gifts, According to Science

Buying someone you love a gift that expresses your truest feelings isn't always easy. But when you get it right the joy they show is worth it. Here's how to discover a gift the recipient will love.


Nothing can put a dent in your holiday spirit faster than spending hours in long lines in the store or scanning websites trying to find the perfect gift only to later present it to the recipient and have them look only mildly pleased (you might want to brush up on your gift-giving etiquette, too). What if there were an art to picking out a gift that had more to do with the person’s soul instead of a hefty price tag? Consider these strategies for picking out meaningful gifts.

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While you may think it is a great idea to surprise someone on your holiday list by giving them something you think is a meaningful gift, it is best just to get them exactly what they have told you. For instance, weeks before the holidays you had heard them say they wanted the new Fitbit because they wanted to get in shape. To you, that seemed a boring and predictable so instead, you bought them a gym membership. Well that was the wrong move, says a study published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The researchers found that that gift recipients are more appreciative of gifts they ask for than those they do not. So forget about what you think they want and get them what they have specifically asked for. Here are some tips for being a better listener.

Size doesn’t matter

Still, the hardest part of this process is trying to show what you feel through your gift selection because as we know actions speak louder than words. In the spirit of showing love, we might go big instead of thinking of what really makes the person happy. You might think buying your hubby the new curved smart TV is perfect, but then when you get it home it lights up the living room like a stadium and is totally wrong for the space. Instead, think smart and practical (and save some money with these budget tips for holiday shopping). For example, if he’s a movie buff, get him a year’s subscription to Netflix and a selection of popcorn toppings as meaningful gifts. There are also plenty of stocking stuffer ideas if you want to get something on the smaller side.

Keep it open

Many of us may consider giving cash or gift cards impersonal, but this may save you some angst by allowing the receiver to chose what they want, especially when it comes to picky tweens and teens. In a recent poll of over 7,000 Black Friday shoppers, 39 percent said the recipient they were shopping for was “picky.” So save yourself the second guess and give a gift card to a favorite store. If you are opposed to gift cards or cash, there are plenty of unique gift ideas for people who are difficult to shop for. If you have a good sense of humor, these gag gifts are perfect for the whole gang.

Create an experience

When all else fails, create a memorable moment, like with these creative non-toy gifts. These are definitely some of the most meaningful gifts. Log on to websites such as Groupon or LivingSocial where you can nab the latest tickets for a play, purchase a surf lesson package, or even something unexpected like a flight lesson. These are things that can be experienced together as well as create a lasting memory. For example, if your guy is into NASCAR just imagine the look on his face when you score him a ride at race car driving school. That is something that won’t end up at the bottom of his sock drawer. (Just don’t give anything like these 42 unintentionally funny Christmas gifts that people actually gave.)

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest