It’s the reaction that all gift-givers dread: the brief pause; the forced smile; the polite “oh, you really shouldn’t have”. All signs that your carefully chosen gift has missed the mark.
Buying a great Christmas gift for family and friends can be stressful and fraught with complications. How do you buy something meaningful, at a reasonable budget, that won’t eventually end up in your loved one’s regifting cupboard? Fortunately, there are simple ways to avoid the emotional (and financial) embarrassment of offering an unwanted gift. What we really want when we give a gift, is for the recipient to feel a boost of happiness. So, what often ends up happening is we buy gifts that would make us happy. Or we guess at what will bring someone enjoyment. Thankfully, researchers have a great idea of what makes people truly happy; what boosts our sense of wellbeing and makes us feel good about life. This means we can take the guesswork out of great gift-giving. For gifts that will brighten someone’s day and put the ‘happy’ back into the holidays, try these tips:

Gift an experience: Studies are pretty clear about this – we are happiest when we spend money on experiences, rather than possessions. When you gift an experience, you are actually gifting a lifetime memory that won’t just boost happiness at the time of the experience, but also every time the recipient reflects back on that moment.

Make an on-behalf donation: When we are kind and generous to others, our brains reward us with a boost of wellbeing and joy. Letting someone know that you have donated to a worthy cause in their name is a great way to enhance happiness in the holidays.

Instigate a reunion: Studies show that social connection is one of the most important elements of a long, happy life. Therefore, a great gift is one that reconnects the recipient with individuals they love. Depending on your budget, you can arrange a surprise reunion, or a dinner out for the recipient and their loved ones, or simply invite ‘surprise guests’ to your festive celebrations.

Give something home-made or heartfelt: It’s impossible to overstate how important it is for us to feel that we belong; that we are seen and appreciated. It costs almost nothing to write a heart-felt letter of gratitude, or create a box full of reasons you adore someone. If you are going to give baked goods or holiday snacks, take the time to make these items yourself. This elevates these simple gifts into the realms of heart-felt human connection.
Remember, too, to be gentle on yourself and fill up your own happiness stores. It can take courage, but by offering an overdue apology or extending forgiveness to someone, you can lift your mood and enjoy a truly happy Christmas.

Kim Forrester is a holistic wellbeing author, consultant and educator.