The psychology behind the perfect Christmas gift

The psychology behind the perfect Christmas gift

The season of giving is getting into full festive swing, shopping centres are resembling a mosh pit at Glastonbury (thank goodness for online shopping!), presents are stacking up, and the pressure is building to find the perfect gifts for your friends and family.

It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to know that doing nice things for people feels good. However, research shows that giving a gift generates more happiness than receiving one, while another study suggests that spending money on others can be as effective at lowering blood pressure as medication or exercise. These psychologists have clearly never experienced the stress of having to choose a gift for the person who already has everything.

If you are experiencing the anxiety of gift-giving, take a look at these tips below from Viren Swami, a Cambridge social psychology professor who claims he has cracked the psychological secrets behind giving the perfect Christmas present:

What kind of gift?

It seems that there is greater meaning in giving gifts that express your own personality rather than proving how well you know the person or trying to find a gift that you think they would like.

Research shows there are two types of gift givers in this world: one is the ‘recipient centric’ – these people find gifts that reflect the qualities or interests of the person receiving the gift. The second type is the ‘giver centric’ – these people find gifts that express their own personality. Out of these two, most people believe that ‘recipient centric’ gifts are preferred. However, despite common belief the people surveyed reported feeling closer to the person when they received a giver-centric gift.

If you prefer to go down the ‘recipient centric’ route, don’t risk second-guessing what they want – just simply ask them. Research shows that people have a clear preference toward gifts they have asked for directly over unrequested gifts.

Playing it safe with money?

Giving money (or international shopping tokens, as my mother used to say) instead of a gift at Christmas may seem like a quick and easy win. It takes the risk out of a disappointing gift by allowing the person to choose their own, while incidentally removing all effort on your part. Christmas isn’t really perceived to be about money so gifting it may fail to show intimacy and inadvertently send an inappropriate message about the unequal financial status between you and the receiver.

How much to spend?

There is scientifically no link between the price of the gift and the level of happiness or appreciation. So, it really is the thought that matters.

Viren Swami also offered his advice on diffusing the situation when you do receive a dud gift. According to research, there are a range of clues that indicate a gift isn’t appreciated, from facial expressions to the gift mysteriously disappearing forever. However, failing to say, ‘thank you’ was the only indicator that participants said reliably predicted how detrimental the incident would be to the future of the relationship. This tip may come in handy for those ‘thoughtful’ hand-knitted Christmas jumpers you may receive.

At Capital, we believe that Christmas isn’t all about gifts but about spending quality time with the people most important to you. So, whilst gifting can give you short bursts of joy, the memories you make in the festival season will last forever.

Be the first to know