Socks and gift cards might not be the shameful presents we thought they were.
A new study from Carnegie Mellon University and Indiana University suggests that people are generally happier to receive practical gifts instead of flashy items.
The findings fly in the face of the conventional holiday wisdom — that the most meaningful gifts spark an instant “Wow” response. According to the new research, boring might be better.
Psychologists Jeff Galak, Elanor Williams, and Julian Givi discovered through their review of existing research that there was a crucial difference between how people give gifts and how they receive them. Givers think a present should be eye-popping, while receivers think long-term utility is what counts.
“What we found was that the giver wants to ‘wow’ the recipient and give a gift that can be enjoyed immediately, in the moment,” Galak explained in a press statement, “while the recipient is more interested in a gift that provides value over time.”
Galak and his team looked at the literature on giver-receiver discrepancies and found that the moment of exchange was key. Givers tend to pick a gift based on their expectations about the instant someone unwraps it. Selfish as that tendency might seem, it makes sense since the big reveal is the moment they have been waiting for. For the receiver, it’s totally the opposite — the reveal is simply the first time they see the gift.
Since the giver is focusing on the moment of exchange rather than the long-term use, the researchers argue he may make one or more errors in what he gives. He may try to surprise the recipient instead of sticking to a wish list, opt for a tangible gift rather than an experience that will be enjoyed later, or announce he’s made a donation in the person’s name.
Good gift-giving, in other words, is unselfish. It requires knowing that the best gifts might be those you won’t get to see in use.
Huey Lewis and the News had it right: At least around the holidays, it’s hip to be square.
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