Unwrapping the Science of Giving the Perfect Gift at Christmas

We asked three specialists how to give the perfect gift—you may want to send them a thank you card after reading this.

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Rule 1: Ask at the Right Time
The first step, as always, is figuring out what the other person wants, but when’s the best time to start asking? Psychosexual relationship specialist Jacqui Olliver recommends striking when the giftee looks relaxed. “The number one rule to become better at gift giving is to be in charge of your emotions and how you express yourself when you’re feeling triggered. This can be from a partner’s request or any other life circumstance. When you’re emotionally triggered your prefrontal cortex shuts down to the degree that you cannot think clearly or process new information. Meaning you may become fixated on thinking about one aspect to the exclusion of everything else, not hearing additional information and therefore not fully understanding what your partner is requesting!” she says. “People go through phases, and what was relevant three weeks ago may not be wanted now. Many of us aren’t able to clearly communicate our desires immediately when prompted, so you need to remain patient to find out what is wanted. Choose to do your detective work during times of relaxation, because if your partner is distracted when you ask your questions then you’re not going to get a precise answer.”

Rule 2: Put Yourself in Their Shoes
“Giving a gift is important because it strengthens relationships,” advises Nathan Novemsky, Professor of Marketing in the Yale School of Management. “I am not sure what the right gift means, but some gifts will induce more reciprocity than others. For example, receivers focus less on the gift giving process and more on enjoying the gift. So things like price, effort to find, uniqueness of the gift are valued more by the giver than the receiver. The receiver wants something easy/convenient to enjoy more than something that was difficult to obtain. Imagine having the gift yourself before you choose it. Taking this perspective will get you to focus on the same things the receiver will focus on when they receive the gift. For example, elaborate wrapping is less important than you might think—at the moment the gift is being seen for the first time, the wrapping is just something in the way that ends up on the floor. Spend that energy instead on finding something that the person will enjoy having.”

Rule 3: Remember, There is No Perfect Gift
According to Jaime Kurtz, Associate Professor of Psychology at James Madison University, the act of giving the right gift is important, but adds that “there is no ‘perfect’ gift. Your main concern should be: Does this show a sense of understanding? Am I conveying that I know the recipient? You’ll do much better if you can answer and address those questions.”
According to Jacqui Olliver, gift giving is a process than needs perspective and shouldn’t be a substitute for doing more important things to grow our relationships, especially with our partners. “How can we perceive that we ever really know what our partner truly wants?” she proffers. “Gift choices are often contaminated by our own needs and desires. We also tend to be distracted when shopping because we become emotionally triggered. When we’re triggered, we forget important details told to us, with the end result of being accused of not listening to our partner’s desired preferences. While you could buy your partner a physical gift, the greatest gift is to work on being the best version of yourself so your partner can truly trust in you.”


Jacqui Olliver is a Psychosexual Relationship Specialist at End the Problem who renews relationships by solving people’s emotional and sexual issues. In the past 7 years, she has helped over 1,000 men, women, and couples restore a relaxed, happy, and fulfilling sex life and enhance their overall connection. Click here to check out her programs or to book a complimentary strategy session and start getting real answers to solve the real problems.