The Art of Affection: How to Give Good Gifts
If you’re like me, gift-giving is a joy, a specialty. You relish the thought of mulling over hundreds of ideas to find the perfect present for your special someone. Your love for him/her is such that you won’t rest until you find a gift that shows just how special (s)he is to you.
After reading that, some of you are thinking to yourselves, “yeah, that is so NOT me.” It’s not that you don’t want to give good gifts, you just don’t know where to begin. You generally give the same gifts to the same people with very little variation or imagination…but not because you don’t love them. You just find it hard to think of what to get them.
I’m hoping this post will help with that. At the heart of it is a desire to learn and apply the art of affection — the intersection between feeling love and showing love.
In a way, this post is “one-size-fits all.” I say that because these principles can be applied to anyone at any time in any kind of relationship.
So here they are: seven practical ways to give good gifts:
Learn to Listen
Honestly, if you just do this one thing it will change your gift-giving game forever. People talk…a lot. It’s what humans do. Even the quiet ones. Without realizing it, people convey what is really in their hearts whenever they open their mouths. Learning to listen to what people are saying is a super easy way to ascertain what they might like to receive as a gift.
What stories do they tell and what is featured in those stories? How can you turn those features into a gift? When they are happy about something, can you turn their happiness into a gift? When they are frustrated by something, can you gift them something that will alleviate their frustration? Did something make them emote – how can you replicate prevent that? Have they been talking about the same thing, event, person, place, etc. forevvvveerrr – it’s a safe bet that you can build a gift around those things.
A few things I do to help me remember what I’ve heard is take pictures of things that people show me, make notes in my phone when they bring up something I think I can turn into a gift, place things in the “save for later” section of my Amazon cart, and copy the links for YouTube videos that provide DIY inspiration based on the things people have said they like, want, or are interested in.
Figuring out how to listen for gift ideas when other people talk does require a little bit of effort, but, as with all things, the more you practice, the better you’ll get!
Recognize the Spectrums
This one is important because it gets you thinking about your special someone on a very specific level.
When it comes to gift giving, there are a few spectrums on which people generally fall. Taking these spectrums into consideration — especially how they correlate with one another — can set you on the path to finding or making the perfect gift for your special someone.
The Meaning Spectrum
This spectrum deals with how much or how little people consider the thought that went into a gift they receive. People who place a high level of emphasis on meaning prefer gifts that show thought and consideration for who they are as an individual; gifts that take personal effort and show sacrifice; gifts that are specifically aligned with their personality, interests, and preferences; gifts that come from a place of very purposeful sincerity.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is a gift’s functionality. Although thought will have been put into it, some people don’t register meaning nearly as much as they register how a gift meets a need or fills a void. If the gift is something your special someone can use and it helps him reach his personal goals more effectively, then he’s over the moon about it.
As the gift-giver, you’ll have to determine where your special someone falls on this spectrum. If meaningfulness is a high priority for them, hand-made gifts are a great way to go. Another great idea would be gifts that show you’ve been thinking about who they are as a unique individual, such as “inside joke” gifts, “this would be perfect for her” gifts, or “walking down memory lane” gifts.
If meaningfulness is not a high priority for your special someone, choose gifts that function well for him. Figure out what he needs to reach or master his goals and get him something that will help him do just that.
The Time Spectrum
This spectrum deals with the way time can be gifted to others.
On one end of the spectrum are people who value gifts because they indicate that intentional time and effort were put into the gift and/or because the gift itself includes spending time with that person’s favorite people — usually the giver of the gift. People on this end of the spectrum feel special when the gifts they receive indicate a desire on behalf of the giver to spend quality time together doing things that are of interest to both of them, things they both enjoy. Although these people will still appreciate doing things that cater to their specific, individual interests, if the other person doesn’t enjoy himself too, the time will be ill-spent because people on this end of the spectrum place a high priority on making sure their loved ones are happy. If both people can’t be happy, the happiness of the receiver is automatically diminished.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who value aloneness and rest rather than time spent with others engaging in various activities. This type of person is happiest at home and values being in places that are familiar and comfortable over places that require her to expend energy doing something new or acting a certain way. Although this type of person loves her significant other, she feels safest and most relaxed when she is by herself. In cases like this, sincere understanding and acceptance of this type of person’s appreciation for stillness and aloneness is a gift in and of itself.
The Cost Spectrum
On one end of this spectrum are people who value gifts that cost a lot of money. Usually this is because they would rather not spend money on or receive gifts of inferior quality when having the best is an option. They recognize that “we get what we pay for,” and are often the ones who will spend a lot of money on their loved ones when it is their turn to give a gift.
People on this end of the spectrum are given to liking and wanting extravagant gifts and, much of the time, maintain interests, hobbies, and tastes that are on the pricier end.
Money is how these people show their love, so, in turn, receiving expensive gifts is how they feel loved. It’s not that they are greedy or money-hungry, it’s that when they love someone they want that person to have the best of everything, so they feel most loved when others do the same for them. To them, the amount of money they spend on someone shows how much that person means to them, so they will often gauge their standing with others based on how much money is spent on the gifts they receive.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who value, well, value. They would rather people not spend a great deal of money on them because, to them, money meets needs, whereas they would prefer for their gifts to reflect the fact that they are wanted, loved, and appreciated.
Whereas money pays the bills, buys groceries, and keeps the lights on, people on this end of the spectrum would rather not have their loved ones spend exorbitant amounts of money on expensive gifts when simple, thoughtful ones are just as special.
These type of people will sometimes see expensive gifts as wasteful, especially if they are the ones in charge of the money used to buy the gift or they know the giver well enough to know that they can’t afford it. These people would rather receive something that doesn’t cost any money at all then be the reason a hardship is created in the lives of their loved ones.
The Experience Spectrum
This spectrum deals with how much a person values doing over getting things.
On one end of the spectrum are people who love adventure, chasing dreams, learning new things, trail-blazing, and experiencing life to the fullest. These types of people respond well to surprises, spontaneity, traveling, adventure, activity, new experiences, crossing things off their bucket list, and doing things that leave them with great stories to tell.
These types of people won’t generally keep mementoes of their adventures, but they will usually take and post 2,000 pictures of every single moment of them and then re-post those memories on social media when real life resumes being mundane and/or hard.
On the other end of this spectrum are people who enjoy collecting mementoes from everyday life of special memories made with the people they love. Although they do enjoy doing things with others, they don’t feel an express need to experience larger-than-life adventures. Instead, they value knowing they have a secure and special place in the lives of their loved ones and collect knick-knacks of those memories along the way.
Often times, these people will have a box (or two or three or twenty) full of reminders of all the special moments they have shared with those who are most important to them. Ticket stubs, receipts, cards, printed pictures, fabrics, toys, gifts, journals, trinkets – you name it. If it holds even the smallest bit of sentimental value, they’ve got it in a bin somewhere.
These knick-knacks are treasured because they provide tangible proof that these people are important to their loved ones — valued, wanted, desired, necessary, irreplaceable. People on this end of the spectrum are the living embodiment of the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and they don’t even pretend to be sorry about it.
The Service Spectrum
This spectrum deals with how much value your special someone places on his needs being met.
On one end of the spectrum are people who have a lot on their plate and often find themselves run ragged by everyday demands. They place a high value on gifts that alleviate the pressure they feel to meet demands, fulfill their roles, and faithfully tend to their responsibilities. For someone like this, being taken out to dinner so he doesn’t have to cook, having a service hired to come clean the house so she doesn’t have to, having his tank filled without asking, changing baby diapers, doing the grocery shopping, running errands, etc.; these are all gifts that are extremely desirable to someone who values the gift of service.
To people on the other end of the spectrum, however, gifts of service are not expressly meaningful because, although they do alleviate some of the demands of everyday life, they are not special, unique, or out of the ordinary. In addition, someone on this end of the spectrum views maintaining a home and a family as a cooperative endeavor and generally feels that her loved ones should not turn a chore into a gift.
Although she will always appreciate the help, she would much prefer a gift that considers who she is an individual — as a unique person with interesting thoughts, hobbies, and desires — not just someone who lives in the house and is responsible for keeping it clean and running smoothly.
The most important thing to remember about the spectrums is that they interact with one another in countless ways and differ from person to person. Your special someone is unique, individual, particular; your homework is to find out where he falls on any given spectrum IN LIGHT OF where he falls on all of the other spectrums as well.
It’s Not About YOU
Tempting as it is, if you want to be a good gift giver, you have to take yourself out of the equation. That is, you cannot give someone a gift that YOU would love to receive, then be hurt when they don’t appreciate it the way you would.
Often times, we think that others will feel special or be helped in the same ways we do/are, but that is usually not the case. This is when listening becomes especially important. Spending oodles of time and money on a gift that speaks intensely to your own heart is no way to ensure you are giving a good gift. Listening to your special someone and putting yourself in his shoes is a much more effective way to think through how to give him a gift he will enjoy.
This becomes especially important when you and your special someone are as different as night and day. Without even realizing it, we can (and tend to) accidentally project ourselves on to our loved ones, but when they are vastly different from us, those kinds of gifts are inappropriate and, in extreme cases, insulting (such as “making a point” gifts which should NEVER be given under any circumstances!)
Regardless of how similar you are to your special someone, the gifts you choose should be about them, not you.
Become a Low-Key Profile Stalker
So here’s the deal: in today’s world, people are much easier to read than they once were. Thanks to social media, we have an endless supply of inspiration from which to draw gift-giving ideas. Even if someone isn’t all that active on social media, you can still find gift ideas that will be well suited to her by low-key stalking her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. pages.
What does she post about? Where does he go? What does she do? What has he said he enjoys? Who does she like? What does he want to do? What is she working on? What are his goals? What type of food does she love? Who does he follow on social media? What has she complained about?
You might think negative posts aren’t helpful, but much of the time, they are more helpful than the positive posts. How can you fix a problem, fill a void, meet a need, heal a wound, encourage, solve, mend, etc.? Complaining can be annoying sometimes, to be sure, but being a good gift-giver means listening to EVERYTHING your special someone has to say, not just the easy, superficial, happy stuff.
The professor in me couldn’t help including this one. How many times have I heard a student say, “I’m so sorry…I meant to…I’d planed on…I promise I was going to….I had a really big assignment due in another class…I think I still deserve points because…”
It’s easy to prioritize things and people you CAN’T dismiss, like work or a DMV appointment, but people who give good gifts don’t wait until the last minute to throw one together – even if they can.
Planning ahead starts with knowing when your deadlines are. If you have a terrible memory, like I do, a calendar is a great way to help with this. There’s no shame in being organized when it comes to special dates like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.
Planning ahead also consists of thinking about your gift long before you have to give it to your special someone. If you apply any of the above suggestions, you’ll need a place make notes about good gift ideas and just about any system will work. I use my cell phone to take pictures of things my loved ones point out to me or create a new note to remember what they’ve said long after they’ve said it.
I tell my students this all the time, “If you spend one hour on a six hour assignment, it’s going to show, and your grade will reflect it.” The same principle applies to gift giving: If you spend five minutes on a gift, it’s going to show, and you aren’t going to fool anyone, least of all the person receiving the gift.
Change is the Rule, Not the Exception
People change. It’s inevitable. It’s what makes us human.
What worked as a gift 10 years ago, probably won’t work as well now because your special someone is a different person today than he was 10 years ago. So much life has happened between then and now. He thinks about things differently, he values different things, he has new or different interests…there are just so, so many variable.
A good gift giver understands that the longer you know someone the more research you have to do to figure out how to make your loved ones feel special. That is, giving good gifts requires an investment in growing WITH your loved ones and taking joy in acquainting yourself with the many new and different things that will interest and define them over time.
Nothing says, “I’m not paying attention at all” like giving someone a gift you’ve already given them in the past. To be a good gift giver, it’s imperative that you make a point of remembering which gifts you have given to which people.
Being a purposeful gift giver involves figuring out a way to remember which gifts you have given to your loved ones in the past, or recording them so that you don’t forget. It’s not very spontaneous, that’s true, but it will keep you vigilant!
I will admit that this post ended up being a lot longer than I intended. This topic is near and dear to my heart, though, and making people feel special is something I enjoy a great deal. I have learned, though, that there’s a lot more to gift-giving than picking the first thing off the shelf, wrapping it, and calling it a day.
I hope this post was helpful and that I was able to give you a few things to think about. Happy gifting, everyone, and may your loved ones always know how much you care.
Until Next Time My Friends,
The Taylor of All Trades