"In case you are stumped, here is my wish list." My 13-year-old daughter recently sent everyone in our family a link to a gift registry with specific items she hoped to receive for her upcoming birthday or Christmas. Fluffy slippers, a weighted blanket, candy-flavored lip gloss, and scented candles are among the typical teen girl swag on the list.
I was a little taken aback by the registry. It wasn't the items that bothered me as much as the explicit ask. It felt tacky and transactional. So much for the old-fashioned maxim, "it's the thought that counts." Truth be told, I had asked her what she wanted. I suppose I was expecting a vague wishlist scribbled on a Post-It note, not a link to face glitter at Target.
As I thought about it, it became increasingly clear that my discomfort with the registry was more about my ego than the list itself. I bristled at the idea of being told what to buy instead of drawing upon my own ingenuity. Plus, selecting a gift from a registry kills the element of surprise that I find so enchanting. Upon reflection, it was all about my preferences, not hers.
Good giving is not about the giver. In fact, studies show that the best gifts are the ones people request, not the ones we want to give them. Not only are people more satisfied, they also report greater appreciation when they receive a gift they asked for.
In addition to giving people what they want, here are some other research-backed guidelines to be a better giver.
An experience — a dance class, a night at the theater, a membership to a museum like The Metropolitan Museum of Art — lasts longer than the short-lived excitement from something bought from a store.
Making a photo album, knitting a scarf, or baking a batch of your famous cookies doesn't cost much but the value is priceless. As the old saying goes, the best gifts come from the heart, not the store.
There is nothing more valuable than time. A wonderful gift is the promise of quality time with someone you love. Ideas: make coupons for your kids for uninterrupted time with you. "This coupon entitles you to an afternoon in the park with Dad" or "This coupon entitles you to an extra bedtime story."
Plan an afternoon or evening with a friend. After months of social distancing, spending time together is the ultimate gift.
Give a gift that gives all year long.
Instead of focusing on the "wow" factor in the moment of exchange, choose a gift that will be useful. Novelty wears off quickly. These gift misfires usually end up in the back of the closet.