The Pacific Standard Guide to Gift Giving

Panicked about some last-minute Christmas shopping? Don't worry, we've got you covered.
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If you clicked on the headline to this story, one thing is obvious: You really saved your Christmas shopping until the last minute. That said, here are a few well-researched tips that might come in handy as you start swiping that credit card:

Material Gifts Matter

A 2015 paper published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people derive more joy from physical presents than they do from experiential ones.

In their study of 81 undergraduates, the researchers found that material goods led to more frequent moments of happiness, whereas experiential gifts created less frequent, but more intense, feelings of glee. (That makes sense: A trip to Hawaii could be a blast, but it won't do as much good after you've returned to work as, say, a new jacket might.)

"[T]he choice between material and experiential purchases inherently involves a tradeoff between frequent and intense momentary happiness," the researchers wrote. Those vacation tickets are nice, but if you want to make a lasting impression, go with something a bit more practical.

Don't Go With Your Gut

While you might be tempted to get creative and surprise someone with a random item they've never before expressed any interest in, don't. Better to give them something you know they want. That's according to a 2011 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, that found people preferred receiving gifts from their wish list over unsolicited gifts. What's more, they found those wish list gifts to be more thoughtful presents.

Those results actually run counter to most gift-givers' rationale. According to the study, "gift givers assume that both solicited and unsolicited gifts will be equally appreciated." But that's a false assumption, and it might lead to disappointed loved ones.

Don't Feel Too Bad If You Need to Re-Gift

You might be deterred from re-gifting for fear that the original giver will find out about your slothful Christmas strategy. But fortunately, those original gift-givers seem to be OK with their present turning into someone else's freebie. A 2012 article in Psychological Science found that the people most bothered by the re-gifting process were actually the guilt-ridden re-gifters, not the original givers.

"Givers believed that the act of gift-giving passed title to the gift on to receivers, such that receivers were free to decide what to do with the gift," the study authors wrote. "In contrast, receivers believed that givers retained some say in how their gifts were used."

Now, the study did find one category of gift that could be cause for some holiday tension: sentimental items. "[R]egifting symbolic gifts ... may be more likely to offend givers because the act of regifting sends a stronger signal that receivers do not value their relationship with givers," the researchers wrote. So no matter how much you might hate that scarf your grandmother gave you, better to keep it tucked in the closet than let it go.

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