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'Tis the season to be thoughtful

…and that starts with presents that really hit the mark. Danielle Hine finds out how it’s done


ropped under the Christmas tree, the tiny present seemed insignificant compared with the larger, more impressive-looking packages piled around it. But when I untied its jaunty red ribbon to reveal a limited-edition, crimson Chanel lipstick, that little gift made a big impression. ‘What’s so special about a lippy?’ I hear you cry. Well, it proved how much my friend, Hazel, who gave it to me, understands me. She gets that I adore red lippy but wouldn’t splash out on a designer brand, as I’m saving for a house. She knew I’d be impressed with a limited-edition shade because it would make me feel a bit, well, fancy. Yep, that one lippy said a lot. And therein lies the secret to gifting success – giving a present that shows you really ‘get’ the person you’re buying for. It makes them feel understood and loved for who they really are.

The power of connection

So why exactly does the perfect ‘I get you’ gift mean so much? Karen Pine, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, who has conducted research on gifting, says: ‘A gift is a symbolic declaration about the giver, the receiver and the relationship connecting them. Social ties and bonds are very important to people. They make us feel valued, supported and less alone.’


And she notes that in today’s society, moments of connection can feel extra special because we don’t always get that many. ‘Unfortunately, many families no longer live near each other, and social media can make us feel less connected. Therefore, real relationships are still very important. The right present – something that shows you understand the person and are willing to go to some effort for them – sends all the right messages.’ So how do you land on the perfect gotcha gift?

Take you out of it

One of the first things to do is stop thinking of yourself. ‘Social psychology research has found that it’s really common for us to struggle to consider someone else’s perspective – and to let our own egos and ideas of what makes a great gift drive our purchasing decisions,’ says Professor Pine.


Oops – guilty! Like the scarlet lippy I gave my mate who only wears nudes. Something I’d love. But her? Not so much.


‘It’s hard to separate your own taste from theirs and buy something you actively don’t like,’ agrees psychologist Jess Baker. ‘But it’s not about trying to make them like the things you do.’

Forget the big reveal

Another thing that takes away from the thoughtfulness of our gifts? Putting too much emphasis on the wow factor. According to a recent US study, drama is not what recipients want.


‘It’s common for buyers to concentrate more on how dazzled the recipient will be when they open their gift,’ says Jess. ‘Whereas the person receiving it is more likely to be thinking: “Will I ever use this?”’ So, before you buy, run it through that filter to check it’s a gift that actually makes sense for them.


And *gift-error klaxon* don’t assume that the more money spent = the more impressed the recipient will be. ‘Research has found that price is no indicator of how much someone is going to use or enjoy your gift,’ Professor Pine adds.

Stop pigeonholing

While we know the people we love are made up of millions of quirks, we often fall back on lazy stereotypes when it comes to present-buying panic. I’m prone to reaching for hankies for Grandma and socks for Grandpa every year because, y’know, they’re ‘grandparenty’ things.


‘Don’t make assumptions,’ Jess urges. ‘Just because you’re a grandmother doesn’t mean you’d dislike an on-trend beauty product. And your grandfather might prefer a cool, new grooming gadget.’


So how do you break the mould? Jess says it’s all about looking and listening when you spend time with them. ‘Be creative about connecting the things they choose to have in their life with your gift selections. Look at the colours of the clothes they wear, how their home is decorated, the TV shows they like to watch – anything that could give you ideas about things they’d be drawn to,’ says Jess. ‘And ask questions. If your gran does carry a hankie around with her, ask her why she likes it. You might be surprised to find it’s because she loves the floral pattern on it, and not just because a hankie is practical, for example. That might inspire you to look for a floral gift for her for Christmas.’


The minute we ditch the stereotypes and see our loved ones for who they really are, is the minute we ace the gifting game.

Be a Christmas detective

Struggling to suss out the perfect gift? Try these tactics from Jess to land on something they’ll love


What are they tempted by in the shops? Have they mentioned things they’d like to buy? Keep a note, so that you don’t forget anything. It’s not too late to start this year!


Are they on their feet a lot? Try a luxury foot soak. Or, if they have a stressful job, think massage oil. Add a note to share the thought behind the gift and they’ll be moved to see you care.


Ask yourself how they spend their spare time. What we choose to do when we don’t have any obligations says a lot about who we are and what we love. Picture what they’d do on a bonus day off work, and pick a gift that fits.

Illustration Sarah Dennis

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