Science has a present for you this Christmas: a step-by-step guide to giving the perfect gift.
We all know our preoccupation with giving heart-warming, jaw-dropping, tear-jerking gifts for Christmas is a little neurotic. But we also know we're not alone. Giving gifts can be a stressful affair, whether it's picking your boss for Secret Santa - despite trying to rig proceedings - or attempting to convey how much your mum means to you through a particular scent of candle.
And let's not forget the pressures of unwrapping the gifts that have been so lovingly chosen. Some find themselves practising their gift-accepting faces for weeks prior to the main event, trying to hide the slightest hint of disappointment and channel Leo DiCaprio's gracious loser face. In the words of The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper: 'Gift-giving is based on reciprocity. You haven't given me a gift. You've given me an obligation.'
But fear not, Santa's Little Helpers; these five failsafe – and surprisingly easy – rules will guarantee all important smiles come Christmas morning, courtesy of a series of psychological studies.
1. Reflect Your 'True Self'
Yes, you heard correctly: Gift giving is more about you than your recipient. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people feel a greater sense of closeness after receiving a present that reflects the giver's likes and dislikes. In a study of 122 students who bought each other iTunes songs, those who bought their friend a song they enjoyed themsleves were rewarded with greater appreciation. In other words, gift giving is not just a test to prove how much you know about the person you're buying for. It's about sharing yourself with them too. Which is great news for egomaniacs and forgetful people.
2. Don't Give Gift Bundles
Science says it is a mistake to bundle together a big gift - in terms of value - with a smaller gift, no matter how cute they look tied together with shiny string. The Journal of Consumer Research published a study stating that we tend to 'average out' the value of our presents. So if you've bought someone a Cartier diamond tiara (oh, pretty please!), don't give them a plastic Claire's bangle at the same time. No matter how much they like the presents individually, the cheaper will devalue the dearer and thus, the study showed, the overall happiness of the recipient will be diminshed.
3. Stay On The Same Wavelength
Although we've always been told that opposites attract, when it comes to gifts it seems we want to feel in tune with our partners. As much as we hate to admit it, the sinking feeling when expectations don't quite meet reality (or when your partner gives you a kettle - ever practical but not exactly romantic - after you've forked out for a nice watch) can put a dampner on festivities. A paper in the Social Cognition Journal found that women are better at receiving disappointing presents, whereas men may end up seeing a shorter future for the couple if their gifts show a lack of common ground.
4. Find The Bank Balance
The gift-giving minefield is particularly perrilous terrain for young couples. University College London psychologist, Professor Adrian Furnham told The Sunday Times: 'Young, unattached men often view giving gifts as fiscal foreplay', adding that expensive gifts given early on in the relationship can be perceived as sexual bribes, while cheaper presents can make the young man in question look like a cheapskate.
5. Don't Joke
Gift giving is a serious business so, buy joke gifts at your own peril. Giving your mate prettily packaged cellulite cream is the equivalent of waging psychological warfare and collaterally taking out Christmas cheer all at the same time. Christmas is a time for love and comfort and suggesting someone has a BO problem by buying them deodorant - no matter how fancy or expensive - is untactful, unacceptable and cowardly. For shame, Grinch.
So, with these words in mind, go forth and dole out the warm fuzzies and be safe in the knowledge that a hug is the best gift you can give, à la Sheldon Cooper:
Words by Francesca Donovan