Not Sure What Gift to Give? Ask These 3 Questions First

stack of gifts with ribbon for Christmas holidays

Gift giving is a wonderful part of the holidays. At its best, it’s an opportunity to show those you love how you feel about them through acts of mindfulness, service, and time. But too often, we can get caught up in the feeling that the quality of our gifts is directly linked to how much further in debt they take us, which — not so great.

When the urge to buy someone a sports-themed, microwave-safe nacho dish hits me, I try to take a step back. If you’re on the same path, these questions can help guide your gift giving away from the discount bin and toward something they’ll truly welcome.

How can you add value to their life?

If the goal of gift giving is to put feelings and thoughts into action, then there is nothing intrinsically wrong with spending a lot of money on someone else. But at this point, adding value to your friends’ lives is probably more about taking time to be their friend and less about asking what’s on their list.

Think of your friend, and think of where you can provide value. Did they recently have a baby? They would welcome a break, so bringing over a frozen meal or two for easy reheating would be a thoughtful present. Do they live far away? Set a date to go see them, and start putting away the coin for the plane ticket. Getting back together and sharing that connection will hopefully mean more than receiving a gift to unwrap.

What do they care about?

Your friend probably doesn’t care about stuff. They may love clothes or movies or television, and they may have strong opinions about those things. But there are also ideas and causes that they care deeply about and help shape the way they see the world.

Take a moment and reflect on those things that speak to their heart, and try to further them in the world. Great organizations are helping children learn or curing illnesses right now. Smart, talented people around the world are asking for a few bucks to make a comic book or build their business. Whatever your friend cares about, try putting some time, talent, and treasure in that direction.

What would bring them joy?

My friend loves the outdoors. His apartment is decorated with patches and photos from the places he’s hiked, and he has thought-out, well-informed opinions about which hiking boots are best. He’s helped me reacquaint myself with getting outside, reminding me of how nice it is to feel the sun on my shoulders as it filters through the trees.

I could buy him boots or a gift card to an outdoors store, but those things are not what actually bring him joy. They’re just tools to bring him closer to getting outdoors. So, I think of how I can facilitate his joy, examining what I can do for him instead of what I can buy.

I can plan a day hike, maybe some place I’ve heard him talk about before. I can pack some peanut butter sandwiches, drive us out to where the road gets narrow, and give us a day where the sunshine will fall on us again.

You know the people in your life, and reflecting on what they would welcome will hopefully mean a more meaningful and less expensive holiday season. And really, I’m serious about this — they don’t need another sports-themed, microwave-safe nacho dish.

In fact, if I had a dollar for every sports-themed, microwave-safe nacho dish I’ve received that is now collecting dust somewhere, I’d have eight dollars. Which, coincidentally, would enable me to buy my own nacho dish on a 50% off after-holiday sale when the stores figure out that no one wants them.

Originally published December 6, 2017.

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