What Counts – The Gift or The Thought Behind It?

Researchers just conducted a timely new study that might make the holidays a little merrier this year - especially if, like me, you stress out over gift giving.  A recent study in the Psychology Science journal points to some keys to taking the stress out of gift giving.

First - does gifting always require shopping?  It must, right because re-gifting is bad form and insulting.  Well, it turns out that's not as true as it used to be.  The Wall Street Journal did a piece about the study, and here's what it said about re-gifting:

Take regifting. That Crock-Pot your well-meaning aunt gave you last year that you are shamefully contemplating wrapping up for your dear neighbor this year? Research shows you can go right ahead and regift it, shame intact. Your aunt probably won't mind.

Many people shy away from regifting, or hide the fact they are doing it, out of fear the original giver of the item could be offended. Don't worry, says a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science. The person who first gave the item is less likely to be offended than the regifter expects.

So, the first item we can check off our list is the need to shop for everything.  All those unused and never-opened sets of beauty and bath products with the little types of different creams, potions and lotions -- absolutely you can wrap those babies up and give them to friends or relatives who love to pamper themselves.

The biggest eye-opener to me was the answer to the age-old question:  Is it the gift that counts or the thought behind the gift?  I'd always assumed that a thoughtful gift was more appreciated but as usual - I was wrong.  "It turns out it's not the thought that counts, it's the gift that counts," says Nicholas Epley, a co-author of the study who works as a behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago.

Putting thought into your gift list is actually a present - or a punishment - to yourself.

Some gift givers spend time and energy trying to find just the right gift. But thoughtful gifts don't necessarily lead to greater appreciation, according to a study published in November in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The benefit of a thoughtful gift actually accrues mainly to the giver, who derives a feeling of closeness to the other person, the study found.

People are more appreciative when they receive a gift they have explicitly requested, according to a similar study published last year in a separate publication called the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

So the way Christmas works with our kids turns out to be the best way to manage the holiday all around.  The list is the thing, Watson!  That would be great if all gift giving worked on lists.  It doesn't work that way with Mr. Duck.  See, if I ask him what he wants, he'll say nothing or he'll be practical and say use the money on something else.  But Christmas is a time when I have a deep-seated psychological compulsion to show Mr. Duck that he's the best gift I ever got.  I do that by trying to buy him the perfect gift.  It doesn't have to be the most expensive, but it does have to be thoughtful.

And if the new study is right and the pleasure or pain of the spousal gift-giving matters more to me than Mr. Duck?  Then, I'll just title it:  Fifty Shades of Christmas.  And, I'll script it with standard around-the-tree-on-Christmas-morning-trauma --  "But I got it to tell you that I love you."  Or - "I wanted to show you how much I cared."  Or - "I got you as a gift so I have to keep saying thank you every year or the Great Husband Bestower will take you away."

Unfortunately, I think what it inspires most in Mr. Duck is a deep desire to find that Great Husband Bestower and punch him in the face, repeatedly.  Okay, Mr. Duck's theory might be right - maybe the Great Husband Bestower is a dedicated bachelor.  I'd just feel better if Mr. Duck didn't speculate about that theory with such a look of envy on his face.

At least, with the knowledge from the new study, I can save my thoughtfulness for Mr. Duck.  Maybe this year he'll even put something on his Santa list other than --  "a straitjacket for my wife and a rubber room for me."  Gee, I'd just join him in the rubber room - doesn't he know that by now?