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Why am I so terrible at buying presents? © Getty Images

Why am I so terrible at buying presents?

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I spend ages thinking of presents for people, but they always go down like a lead balloon.

You might be trying too hard. We often see gift-giving as a test of how well we know the person, as well as our inventiveness and thoughtfulness. But 2011 research at the Harvard and Stanford found that people prefer to receive items from an online ‘wish list’ rather than getting a surprise, no matter how well intended.


If you do want to think up your own presents, though, you could see gift-giving as a chance to share something about yourself. A 2015 study by psychologists in Canada and the US found that people felt a greater sense of closeness to someone who gave them a gift that said something about the giver’s passions and interests, rather than the recipient’s.

One final thought: consider gifting an experience, such as a meal out or a balloon ride. A 2016 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that experiential gifts boost relations between giver and receiver more than material gifts (even when the experience isn’t shared), and that this is due to the intensity of emotion that’s felt during the gifted experience.

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luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


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