Joyful & Mindful: PPA’s Guide to Holiday Gift-Giving

Sam Ngooi Comments

The holiday season is here, and while it may be the “most wonderful time of the year,” holiday shopping can make the season of giving one of the most busy and stressful.  Finding the perfect gift for loved ones can feel next to impossible; according to Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, “being obligated to give and worrying about how people will react interferes with the happiness we typically feel at the pure act of giving,” (Forbes, 12/12/2017).

While 7 in 10 Americans would skip exchanging gifts if their friends and family would agree, we wanted to share a few ways to make holiday giving a bit more joyful and mindful, without saying “bah humbug” to the custom altogether.

  1. Set Reasonable Expectations

A pre-holiday conversation with people in your gift-giving circle can help align expectations around the number of presents, cost, or type of gifts.  Asking “how do we want to handle gifts this year?” can generate creative gift arrangements, such as pooling money for larger gifts.

  1. Shop Thoughtfully

Retailers spend millions on ploys to get shoppers to spend more. One study found that when stores played holiday music, customers spent 34% more time browsing and were 17% more likely to buy something.  Likewise, one-day sales and limited-time store credit impose a sense of pressure on customers to buy things they might not have felt compelled to otherwise. Recognizing these sales tactics, making and sticking to a list, and using tools to help research the best deals can help you avoid being sucked in.

  1. What Makes a Good Gift?

Research shows that gift recipients are more likely to value an experience or activity as a gift over material objects, due to the enduring memories generated by the experience.  A personal note or token gift (think: a pair of hiking socks in advance of a camping trip) can further enhance the excitement and anticipation that make experiences more appreciated than material gifts.

People also feel happiest when they receive something they’ve asked for, rather than a surprise.  Gifts of the practical, homemade, or time-saving (i.e., services) variety are also well-received, provided some careful observations and considerations are made about the recipient’s likes, wants, and needs.  Finally, charitable gifts on someone’s behalf tend to yield the most happiness when they have a well-defined purpose and a way to report back to donors on their impact.

  1. Get Kids Involved

The holiday season is a great opportunity for families to practice thoughtful gift-giving.  Taking time to discuss the “whys” behind holiday traditions and the feelings elicited by giving and receiving gifts is an effective way to reinforce shared values.  Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, notes that a holiday budget not only allows kids to practice money management, but also allows parents to add parameters to encourage family values, such as matching funds allocated to homemade or philanthropic gifts.

  1. Savor Gratitude

Relishing warm emotions can strengthen positive attitudes in the brain and increase happiness and satisfaction.  Throughout the gifting process, it’s okay to be a little selfish, and enjoy the feeling of making someone you care about feel appreciated. Similarly, it’s worthwhile to savor the experience of gratitude when receiving a gift; communicating your appreciation and acknowledgement for the work that went into the gift spreads the good cheer and strengthens your connection with the gift-giver.

  1. Focus on Values

Reflecting on values and priorities during the holiday season serves as a reminder of what gift-giving is all about: creating special connections and enriching our relationships through caring, kindness, and empathy towards others. Taking time — either individually, with friends, or as a family — to think about this deeper meaning can help refocus the reason behind the rituals of the season.

Wishing you a meaningful, fulfilling, and stress-free holiday season!