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6 Ways to Give Better Gifts—Based on Science

I like to think I’m an excellent gift giver—but I’ve occasionally detoured into questionable territory. I once wrapped up a 25-inch cardboard cut-out of my smiling face. The recipient—a family member who wished they saw more of me—loved it (despite the strange looks from everyone else).

My other greatest hits have been less controversial: Jeni’s ice cream shipped to a friend across the country; punny T-shirts; a rare plant from the Netherlands; dog toys that were ripped open well before their intended reveal.


They’re all the result of months of agony. Somewhere around Labor Day every year, I enter elf mode and start spinning my wheels over holiday gifts. How to make a splash without draining the bank account? What to give the person who won’t make a list? Why is this so hard?

To my surprise, help comes from an unexpected source: scientific researchers. People actually specialize in the study of gift-giving to shine light on what we get right—and wrong.