By Dayna Mason

When shopping for gifts, we often simply buy something the recipient has told us they want. But receiving what we say we want, frequently doesn’t make us feel any closer to the giver. What if instead of buying random gifts on wish-lists, we gave gifts which could nurture closeness to others and strengthen our relationships?

Gifts that reflect the giver, promote closeness

When we shop for the perfect gift, we usually focus on what we believe the recipient would want and prefer to give extravagant gifts to foster closeness. But a series of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found, surprisingly, that not only do recipients prefer practical gifts, both givers and receivers report greater feelings of closeness to each other when the gift shares something of the giver. For example, if we give a gift certificate to our favorite restaurant (assuming the recipient also enjoys that type of food), we are sharing something of ourselves with the recipient as opposed to giving a gift certificate to the recipient’s favorite restaurant. 

Gift cards give freedom to indulge

Gift cards have the flexibility of cash but recipients spend them differently than cash, according to research conducted by Cornell University researcher Chelsea Helion. Helion found that when individuals receive a gift card, they are more likely to purchase luxury or indulgent items—items they might not normally buy—versus practical items because they experience less guilt when paying with a gift card compared to credit cards or cash. This freedom evokes emotion and makes them feel closer to the giver.

Gift cards are great for when you know someone’s favorite eateries and stores, but you have no idea what to get them.

Too many toys inhibit imagination

When shopping for children, less is more. Children go through two stages when they receive a new toy: exploration followed by play. During exploration, a child asks: “What does this toy do?” During play mode, a child asks: “What can I do with this toy?”  It is during play mode that creativity, imagination, initiative, and adaptability thrive. When children have too many toys, they are distracted and spend more time exploring and less time playing and learning. This may explain why young children are often more interested in the packaging than the gift.

The “Nursery Without Toys” experiment conducted over 20 years ago in Germany removed all toys from their kindergarten classrooms for 3 months and gave children the freedom (with adult supervision) to do what they wanted, however they wanted. Because they were not being directed by the teachers, they had to find new ways to occupy their day.

On the first day, the children were confused and bored. By the second day, the kids were playing with chairs and blankets, making forts by draping blankets over tables and weighing them down with shoes. Shortly thereafter they were running around, chatting and laughing excitedly. By the end of the third month, they were engaged in outrageously imaginative play, able to concentrate better and communicate more effectively. 

When we provide children with fewer toys, we allow space for play to nurture their creativity, problem-solving abilities and social skills. So instead of buying everything on a child’s wish-list, we could consider buying only one or two thoughtfully chosen gifts which promote engagement with others.

Give the gift of experience

Experiential gifts make people feel closer in relationships than material gifts, regardless of whether the gift is consumed together.

Research conducted at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Department of Management found that gifts of experience improve relationships. “The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative,” said Cindy Chan, associate professor and researcher. “An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa — and is more intensely emotional than a material possession.”

A carefully chosen material gift can also evoke emotion and serve as an experiential gift. For example, giving music that reminds the recipient of a concert enjoyed together, a photo of a loved one, or an item engraved with a loving message.

The gift of experience is by far the best gift-giving choice for promoting relationship closeness. Whether it is taking someone out to dinner to celebrate together or giving them a gift certificate for a sky-diving lesson, when they experience the activity, they will feel closer to the giver. 

A gift is an opportunity

When choosing a gift, think of someone’s favorite hobby or something new they’ve always wanted to do, or find a gift that lets you share something of yourself with them. 

A gift is a chance to connect with someone in a meaningful way and enhance closeness in your relationship.

When giving a gift, give something that takes advantage of the opportunity to grow closer to those you care about.

Unique Gift Ideas:

COMEDY:

MUSIC:

CULINARY:

GREAT OUTDOORS – Support our green spaces and give the gift of exploration:

MUSEUMS:

OTHER:

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