It’s challenging and stressful enough to come up with perfect gift ideas for one friend or loved one. As holiday season approaches unless you’re insanely organized and have already finished shopping — the pressure is on to find cool gifts for a bevy of friends, family, co-workers and on and on. Budget aside, this is a deceptively complicated social interaction. The presents you select reflect on you, how you feel about the recipient and can bring loved ones closer or totally offend them. Whew! Then there’s the tightrope you must walk between personal and impersonal when giving to those outside your nearest and dearest.

It’s important to remember that most recipients won’t analyze the pros and cons of your gift nearly as much as you do. In fact many of us spend way too much time trying to come up with something unique and personal when recipients tend to prefer less niche gifts. Researcher Mary Steffel found that, “Givers tend to focus on what recipients are like rather than what they would like. This can lead them to gravitate toward gifts that are personalized but not very versatile.” In other words, come up with gift ideas based on what your giftee can use or enjoy now, even if seems more mundane than that abstract sculpture that instantly made you think of him or her.

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Surprisingly, a recent study appearing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that, while people preferred receiving gifts that reflect their interests, recipients felt closer to givers who chose things based on what the giver likes. So if you’re looking for greater intimacy, buy what you like and if you just want to make someone happy buy what they like. Another thing to consider is that no one will know that you spent weeks searching for those extra-special cool gifts so if you get it wrong, it could wind up seeming like you didn’t put any thought into it at all.


Another common pitfall of over-personalization is that when one of your goals is giving each person a different gift, it’s likely that you’ll overlook the one perfect gift for two names on your list in favor of two so-so gifts. And of course, there’s re-gifting. It may seem like the height of cheapness and laziness but, if you know someone who would really love what you’ll never use, re-gift away. It’s eco-friendly too. Just be sure not to re-gift to the original giver!

And finally, it really is the thought that counts. Anything that is given with sincerity and love is the perfect gift.