“Asking somebody what they want is seen as taboo. And that’s a shame,” he says. “We would all be better off if we gave people what they want.” Don’t overthink it At the end of the day, don’t fret too much about giving a terrible gift: truly bad gifts are rare.
To shop better, psychology professor Dunn suggests starting with something you have in common with the recipient. She says that instead of using your own preferences and adjusting them for how you and the recipient diverge, focus on what you share and pick a gift from there.
“People are better at choosing something for themselves,” she says, “so if you have something in common with somebody, get something that shares the same affinity, because something you would like will more likely be something they like.”
For an even stronger gift think about a common interest you share and buy something that your recipient can experience – say, concert tickets or a cooking class. Research has also shown that experiential gifts can bring you and the recipient closer, even if you don’t experience the gift with your recipient.
The trick for giving a great gift is to think past the fleeting moment of actually handing it over, a concept he and colleagues Julian Givi and Elanor Williams found to be a common theme in studies on gift giving, including a paper they authored.
“When givers give gifts, they’re trying to optimise on the moment they give the gift and see the smile on the recipient’s face right in that moment,” says Galak. “But what recipients care about is how much value they’re going to derive from that over a longer time period.”
In other words, it might not be exciting to watch a friend or family member open the gift of a movie-streaming subscription, so you might be less likely to give one. But a recipient may actually love it, since it’s a gift that can be enjoyed often over time.