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Updated by Rose Garalde on May 07, 2021
Headline for The Ultimate Gift Buying and Giving Guide
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The Ultimate Gift Buying and Giving Guide

A gift becomes truly special when you take out the time to choose it well. The receiver is bound to feel pleased with a gift that has some connection to their personality. It proves that you have put in thought and effort to make them feel special and loved.


Philosophy & Psychology of Gift Giving

Gift giving and receiving is one of the most important aspects of celebrating festivals and holidays. Besides being a ritual, the act of giving gifts also has numerous psychological benefits, both for the giver and receiver. It is a way of expressing gratitude, love and appreciation and goes a long way in strengthening bonds with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

According to Devin A. Byrd, Ph.D., chair and associate professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences at South University, Savannah, an individual experiences an “emotional lift” while looking for a gift. In a sense, gift exchanges could reveal how you think about the other person and what they enjoy and value. It says a lot about your relationship with that person and how you wish to strengthen it.

A lot of research is being conducted on the different aspects associated with gift-giving such as how people select gifts, what goes into understanding the likes and dislikes of the receiver and the impact of gift-giving on the relationship. This research suggests that gift-giving has been followed as a ritual in numerous cultures for more than forty years. People give gifts to each other when celebrating various life events, as a way of nurturing close relationships, for encouraging economic exchange and for socializing purposes.


Gift-Giving in Primitive Culture

Marcel Mauss, a French anthropologist, wrote an essay in 1954 and gave a detailed analysis of the process of gift-giving. He examined gift-giving as an act in different primitive, isolated societies and came to the conclusion that gift-giving was a self-perpetuating scheme of reciprocity. He offered a summary of three kinds of obligations that preserve gift-giving:

An obligation to give
An obligation to receive and
An obligation to repay

A large percentage of the gift exchanges which are aimed at safeguarding social ties and relationships take place within a structure at ritualized occasions like Christmas, birthdays etc. Such ritualized occasions contribute towards the maintenance of established relationships. A series of gift exchanges (following the principle of reciprocity) help in building transactional relationships between individuals.


Role of Perceptions in Gift Giving

Every now and then people face a creative challenge when they have to find a gift for somebody, a gift that would be appreciated.

Those who are more perceptive than the other will understand that such a challenge involves quite a bit of psychology. So what is the psychology behind gift-giving?

Well, the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the person who is giving the gift come first. And then due consideration needs to be given to the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the receiver as well.
Social psychology can greatly help in solving the puzzle of gift-giving – what to give, how to give, whom to give and when to give. Early research done on gift giving reveals that the process of ‘gift shopping’ itself could be the first area of examination when studying the psychology behind gift giving. For instance, women are found to be more interested in gift shopping as compared to men (this may be more true for “traditional” men).


What does a gift say about you?

Generally speaking, you can adopt two different strategies when trying to buy the “perfect gift” for someone. These are:

If you decide to adopt the recipient-focus strategy, then you will need to find a gift which in some way reflects the personality of the receiver. For instance, purchasing a painting done by your friend’s artist is an example of recipient-focused gift giving.

In the second strategy, i.e. giver-focused gift giving, you might consider looking for something which reflects your own personality or interests. For instance, you could buy a book for your friend that is written by your favorite author. In this way, you are sharing something about yourself with your friend through a gift. This is an example of giver-focused gifting.


Gift Giving is good for Mental Health

We have all experienced an immense sense of satisfaction upon seeing the joy and gratitude on the face of somebody who has received a gift from us. It is one of the most common and effective ways of expressing feelings and emotions, especially to those with whom you share a close relationship, e.g. parents, spouse, children, grandparents, friends etc. By giving a gift, you are often reinforcing acknowledgement and appreciation of one another in the relationship.

Psychologists are of the opinion that gift-giving stimulates a good feeling inside an individual. And it also has certain extrinsic benefits.

When gifts are exchanged between friends, the process usually involves a lot of thinking. However, in the case of a romantic relationship, the two people may also place a lot of emphasis on the ‘sentiment’. Simply put, gift-giving reflects the intensity of our connection with a certain individual.

According to psychologists, another concept behind gift giving is using it as a means to minimize guilt. Sometimes you may find yourself in situation wherein you are unable to attend a special occasion or a celebration of a loved one. At such times, you may send them a gift instead to ‘make up’ for your absence. You may feel hugely satisfied if you are able to get the right gift for the person as you know it would make them extremely happy and they may overlook your inability to make it their special occasion. And of course, it helps in reducing the guilt too.

Psychological research on gift-giving indicates that people tend to feel happier when the gift they receive is something that they had themselves asked for rather than it being a surprise or something which they didn’t want. When the gift giver and receiver are not on the same page, the gift giving process may become complicated, involving a lot of guess work and doubt. You could actually discreetly ask the receiver about what they would like to get as a gift on a festival or special occasion. This way you are guaranteed to get a positive reaction from them when they receive the gift.


Occasions for Gift Giving

There are multiple occasions that would require you to present a gift or gifts to people around you. Besides the holiday season (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s etc.), there are other special occasions that call for a celebration and gifting. Some of the most common events at which gifts are exchanged include:

Birth of a baby
Corporate gifting
Farewell gifts/Moving-away gifts

Choosing Gifts for Different Occasions

Each occasion/festival is unique and when it comes to gifting, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy definitely doesn’t work. Let’s look at some of the important celebrations and holidays which send us off gift shopping every year:

Christmas is a huge festival for everyone. In fact, children associate Christmas primarily with gifts! They believe that Santa Claus will remember to get them everything they wrote on their ‘Christmas gift list’ and that they will find the presents wrapped up and placed under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Such is the excitement around gifts during Christmas.

Christmas is one of those times of the year when you start hunting for suitable gifts to give to everyone. Gift exchange during Christmas time is very common and a major part of the entire festivity and celebration. You may need to get gifts for your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and various other people. The type of gift given to somebody is usually determined by the closeness of the relationship as well as the personality (interests, likes, taste etc.) of the person.

If you’re looking to give a gift to a close family member, try and make it more personal. You can start planning for it well in advance so that you don’t feel stressed out close to the festival. For example, if your child has been eying a particular toy at the toy store for a while now, you could pick it up as a Christmas gift for them. This will guaranteed make them very happy and they would also appreciate the fact that you remembered them expressing interest in that toy earlier. Similarly, think of the likes and interests of your family members before you begin Christmas gift shopping for them.

For colleagues and other acquaintances, you could pick out more generalized gifts such as coffee mugs, stationary, mobile accessories, home artifacts and so on.

When you think of birthdays, you instantly think of flowers and a cake. But sometimes, a thoughtful gift may win you more appreciation and gratitude than flowers and cakes, especially when celebrating the birthday of a family member or friend. Everyone wants to feel special on their birthday, whether a little child or a grown-up adult. And receiving gifts is a big part of feeling special!

If you know your friend well, then it might not be difficult for you to find the right present for them. Some of the most popular gifts given on birthdays include clothes, accessories, books, decorative items, gadgets etc. You could even consider personalizing a birthday gift to make it more meaningful. For example, if you’re buying a photo-frame for your friend on her birthday, get a picture of the both of you to insert in the photo-frame before gifting. This would serve as a nice memory of your friendship and a great birthday present!

Irrespective of whether you’re celebrating your first anniversary or your fiftieth anniversary, it is one occasion that demands to be made special. And there is no better way to make this life event special than by gifting something beautiful and thoughtful to your partner. You could consider surprising your spouse with a unique and personalized gift on your anniversary. It would be the ideal way to express your love and adoration for them.

Some ideas for personalized anniversary gifts include personalized wall art, custom-made jewelry, engraved luxury bags/wallets etc.

If you don’t wish to gift something as boring and traditional as a ‘toaster’ to the wedded couple, then put some thought into what makes a great wedding gift. You might like to pen down the likes and dislikes, taste, hobbies and professions of the couple before narrowing down on a list of potential wedding gifts.

If you have to present something to a beach loving couple, gift them a set of bathing towels with their initials weaved in! Now that’s an example of a creative and personalized gift. Similarly, you could get them matching soft throws, a set of fancy wine glasses, a decorative bookshelf, an arty mirror etc. Ideally, you should gift the couple something that they are likely to use in the near future. It should be a mix of practical and fancy since most couples starting off their life together may need some useful things in their new set up.

Have you been invited to a house-warming party and had no idea about what to gift to the host? When looking for appropriate house-warming gifts, try and keep the word ‘usability’ in your mind. While it might not always be easy to find a practical gift for the new dwellers, it does make more sense to give them something that they can use in their new home rather than throw away in the garage or closet. Good ideas for house-warming gifts include fancy cutlery, barware, arty décor pieces, wall art, lamps, decorative candles, gift hampers (filled with home goodies), a clock, baking utensils etc.

If your friend has just rung up with the news of her delivery, a gift is surely bound to mark this special event in her life. Buying presents for the newborn baby isn’t as complicated and you will find plenty of great options at nearly all baby stores. These typically include clothes, mittens, socks, bottles, sterilizers, baby car seats, stuff toys and all other kinds of baby utility items. There are customized gift packages available for boy and girl babies too.


Types of Gifts

We typically receive gifts on occasions such as birthdays, festivals and other special life events. Gifts are special because they celebrate the relationship between two people. A lot of care and thought may go into buying a gift. This is why they are so cherished by the receiver.

Sometimes the gift is exactly what you wanted for a long time and could not buy for yourself. All said and done, receiving gifts is always exciting.

There are so many different types of gifts that you can choose from. Buying practical gifts that the receiver can actually use for years is an excellent idea. One of the factors that may influence gift buying is the closeness of the relationship shared between the giver and receiver. Another important factor in gift purchase is the budget of the gift giver. A father might want to gift his child something extremely valuable, such as car, on his or her special birthday. Such expensive gifts not only surprise a person but also continue to be cherished by them for years to come.

Similarly, you also need to understand the needs and interests of your friends before buying a gift .If your friend is very fond of cooking or baking, you can gift them a newly launched cook book, a baking dish, muffin cases or even doughnut cutters. Your corporate friends could be gifted note pads, calendars or maybe a lunch tote bag. Then of course there are your teenage nieces and nephews who might cherish latest branded clothes, sportswear, accessories or maybe a monogrammed mug and even a funny throw pillow. You may have friends and relatives who love reading. So they can be gifted latest books and best sellers. You may also gift beautiful home artifacts and decorative pieces to friends who love to do up their homes. This could include tissue and cutlery trays, bedside organizers, dining table organizers, charging stations, bartender glasses, coaster sets, serving trays, etc.

Sometimes you might decide on an unusual gift for a friend or relative. If a person is fond of pets and has been thinking of getting one for a long time, you could think of gifting them a puppy dog! Such a thoughtful gift will surely be cherished for years to come. Your pet lover friends can also feel delighted with pet supplies as gifts. Then there are thosee who love nature and plants. Such people can be gifted live plants and garden instruments.

The young boys in your families will be delighted to receive toys and video games. Those who love music could be gifted music CDs and maybe if you want to spend a little more, you could gift them musical instruments that they play. Your health conscious friends could be charmed with health and personal care products. A dinner invite at a special restaurant is surely going to delight your food lover friend. Gourmet food hampers are another way to steal somebody’s heart.

The list of gifts that can be given is endless and there is no dearth to ideas depending on how innovative one can get.


Budget-Friendly Gifts

The thought and sentiment behind gifting usually takes precedence over the gift itself. Of course, the gift is important, but for somebody close to you, the value of your emotion is far more meaningful than the value of the material gift. If you have a limited budget in which you wish to make someone happy on a special occasion, you can still choose from a range of different gift categories.

DIY gifts are a great option for those with a strict budget. You could create something creative and beautiful at home and present as a gift to a loved one. For instance, if you have a plain ceramic mug lying in your kitchen cupboard, you can take dig into your craft box and use paints to transform it into an art piece. Try and hunt for embellishments and decorative pieces to paste on the mug. You can gift this as a trendy penholder to your friend or colleague.

Likewise, if you’re a knitter, go ahead and brighten somebody’s holiday season by knitting them a pair of colorful gloves or a scarf! Or if your friend is the knitting enthusiast, a well-designed custom gift for knitters that reflects their love for the art would surely be appreciated.

If your friend is an art lover, here’s another interesting gift that you give them. Obviously, you cannot afford to buy expensive art but there is a way that you can gift them quirky art. Get a print out of a vintage dictionary, frame it and gift it to them. It is guaranteed to put a smile on their face.