7 Common Gift Giving Mistakes And 7 Ways to Avoid Them

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Gift-giving is an art form, a way to express love, appreciation, and sometimes even apology. Yet, despite our best intentions, we often find ourselves tangled in the web of gift-giving errors, leaving both givers and receivers feeling misunderstood or disappointed.

In this article, we will dig into the psychology behind gift giving and receiving, according to a research paper published in 2016 by Jeffrey Galak (Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University) and Elanor Williams (Associate Professor, Washington University in St. Louis), both of whom are experts in Social Psychology and Consumer Behavior. The research paper listed 7 most common errors in gift-giving because of the mismatch between the psychology of gift givers and receivers, and the 7 ways to come up with better gift ideas.

7 Most Common Gift-Giving Errors

Disappointed gift receiver

  1. Chasing Desirability Over Usability

Imagine gifting a pair of the most fashionable shoes that are just too painful to wear. Sure, they're gorgeous sitting on a shelf, but their beauty fades in the harsh light of practicality.

Many believe that a good gift must dazzle, leading to choices that are more about immediate wow-factor than long-term value. Yet, studies show recipients yearn for practicality and feasibility.

  1. Opting for Immediate Gratification

The allure of gifts that offer instant enjoyment can be strong, but recipients tend to value gifts that promise future satisfaction, even if it means waiting for their full value to unfold.

Sometimes, the best gifts are those that promise future enjoyment, like an experience to look forward to or an item that matures with time.

  1. Material Over Experiential

While tangible gifts might seem like a safe bet, experiences often hold deeper emotional value for recipients, fostering memorable moments over physical possessions.

Studies and heartfelt anecdotes alike champion the enduring joy of experiential gifts. From concert tickets to a gourmet meal, experiences can forge memories far more precious than the latest gadget.

  1. Surprise Versus Request

The research showed that the element of surprise in gift-giving is overvalued by givers. In reality, recipients appreciate gifts they've explicitly requested more, as these are likely to meet their desires and needs.

When recipients have hinted (or outright requested) what they'd love, opting for a surprise can sometimes mean missing the mark. When in doubt, the wish list is your friend.

  1. Misjudging the Value of Generosity

Givers sometimes misinterpret how their efforts and the price of a gift translate to appreciation. The thought and financial investment in a gift are not as impactful as its absolute quality and utility to the recipient.

It's not the price tag that warms the heart but the thoughtfulness and fit of the gift to the recipient's life and tastes.

  1. Personalization Misfires

Givers often choose gifts that reflect their unique understanding of the recipient's personality or interests. However, this can lead to choices that are less preferred or versatile than options which cater to a broader range of the recipient's wants and needs.

Admittedly we love to give gifts that say, "I get you." But there's a fine line between a personalized gift and one that's so niche it misses the broader context of the recipient's desires or needs. A gift card to their favorite store? Perfect. A specialty item that only caters to a fleeting interest? Perhaps not as much.

  1. Overestimating the Impact of Relationship Symbolism

Gifts meant to symbolize the strength or depth of a relationship, such as charitable donations, are assumed to be highly valued. Yet, recipients may find more pleasure in gifts that offer personal enjoyment.

Opting for a gift that screams "I'm a thoughtful person" can sometimes backfire, especially with socially responsible gifts that may not align with the recipient's personal tastes or needs. While the intention is noble, the execution might fall flat if it doesn't resonate on a personal level.

7 Recommendations for Giving Better Gifts

Delighted gift receiver

  1. Prioritize Practicality and Long-term Value

When choosing a gift, consider its utility and how it fits into the recipient's life. Opt for gifts that combine desirability with practicality to ensure they're cherished beyond the initial excitement, instead of just a "cool gift".

  1. Embrace the Beauty of Anticipation

Don't shy away from gifts that deliver their full joy over time. A subscription service, for example, can offer continued delight well beyond the initial exchange.

  1. Consider Experiences Over Objects

Experiential gifts often lead to shared memories and deeper connections. Whether it's a concert ticket or a cooking class voucher, experiences can outshine physical gifts in emotional value.

  1. Honor Requests Over Surprises

If the recipient has made specific requests, honor them. This not only ensures the gift is desired but also communicates that their preferences and needs are respected.

  1. Focus on Quality, Not Quantity or Price

Invest in gifts that offer substantial value and quality rather than impressive price tags. It's the usefulness and relevance of the gift that will be most appreciated.

  1. Choose Versatile and Preferred Gifts

When in doubt, opt for gifts that offer flexibility and wide appeal. A gift card to a well-loved retailer or a versatile tech gadget can be more satisfying than a highly personalized but less desired item.

  1. Communicate Through the Gift, Not Just Its Symbolism

While the thought behind a gift is important, ensure that it also offers tangible value and enjoyment to the recipient. Avoid overly symbolic gifts unless you're certain they align with the recipient's interests and values.


Gift-giving is a delicate balance between understanding the recipient's desires and expressing your own sentiment and thoughtfulness. By avoiding common pitfalls and embracing strategies for thoughtful gift selection, you can enhance the joy and appreciation in every gift exchange. Remember, the best gifts are those that consider the recipient's preferences, practical needs, and the lasting joy they will bring.