Our series “A Gift for Giving” walks you through how to show your generosity and thoughtfulness to all the special people in your life. Picking out great presents is about more than just knowing someone — it’s a true art form. Wow your loved ones with these tried-and-true tips for being the best gift-giver.

There’s nothing like the unmatched joy that goes hand in hand with watching someone you care about unwrap the ultimate gift.

From the moment their eyes spot the gift awaiting them to the second their fingers unwrap their prize, the very thought of that scenario undoubtedly puts a big smile on your face — especially when the gift came directly from you. As much we love the idea of giving gifts, though, the reality of picking out the perfect present for a loved one can be a challenge.

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Picking out great presents is about more than just knowing someone — it’s a true art form. Gift exchanges are about more than just throwing a present in someone’s direction. They can reveal how people think about each other, how they build and maintain their relationships, and how they feel about another person. In other words, they’re all about connection.

Tips for top-notch gifting

Ready to learn the must-know secrets for being a great gift giver? Above all, you must remember one important thing: The old adage “It’s the thought that counts” absolutely applies to gift-giving. In fact, most people actually feel more pressure when they’re giving a gift than when they’re receiving one. In other words, most people are just thrilled someone put in the effort to think of them.

Photo of man surprising woman with gift

That means that, as the gift giver, you should cut some slack and not overthink it. Odds are, they’ll be over the moon you thought of them in the first place.

Pay attention, listen, and take notes

Do your best to listen to your family and friends year-round to really get a feel for what they like, care about, and desire. The people around us are typically openly communicating about these things, and in those moments you can uncover the perfect gift idea.

Whether it’s a quick, sly mention of something they enjoy, an object they wish they could afford, or an experience they truly want to do, you can discover a lot by paying attention. Keep a running list or note on your phone and add to it year-round. That way, the next time you’re in a gifting slump, you can consult with your handy-dandy list for help.

Know who you’re shopping for

While this might not always apply to your gift-giving process (office-wide Secret Santa games, we’re looking at you), in most cases, keeping perspective about who you’re shopping for and what they’re interested in can help steer you in the right direction.

Photo of family receiving a gift of cookies

Remember, the gift isn’t about what’s important to you, it’s about the person receiving the gift. When it comes to top-tier gifting, knowing your audience can be a game-changer.

Respectful snooping is A-OK

We’re not saying you should start digging through someone’s bathroom cabinets, but paying extra attention and enacting full detective mode can possibly help clue you in to what your friends and family might be receptive to. Take a look at their homes, their hobbies, their cars, and their routines. Do a quick scan of their social media. Do a little digging and some serious research.

Sleuthing around in this way can truly open up your eyes. Just be careful not to get caught digging for clues — that can be a hard thing to explain and potentially ruin the surprise.

Think outside the box

Remember, just because there’s pressure to put something great inside a gift box doesn’t mean you have to think inside that box. Giving a great gift is all about using your creative brain, which often means forgoing the usual. For example, maybe your gift recipient doesn’t want something that can fit inside a box at all.

Photo of woman taking recipe card out of recipe box

Giving the gift of an experience — potentially one you enjoy together — can strengthen your relationship, build your bond, and matter more to people who aren’t fans of material possessions. Sign yourself and a family member up for an online culinary workshopbake something sweet for a friend, or plan some fun activities to do with mom on her special day.

Don’t shy away from sentimentality

Well-selected gifts are often incredibly valuable, but not in the way you might think. No, we’re not talking about monetary value — we’re talking about sentimental value or, rather, something that’s filled with emotion or creates a connection between the giver and the receiver.

Photo of young man receiving a graduation gift from mother

Though sentimental gifts can be hard to come up with, recipients of presents often prefer sentimental ones. In other words, if you’ve got a great idea for a sentimental gift for your loved one, go for it — even if it’s tough to be vulnerable. It could be as simple as handwriting something meaningful in a greeting card.


Beginning her writing career as a print journalist, Hanna Marcus worked as a beat reporter and general assignment reporter in newsrooms throughout Florida including The Tampa Bay Times, The Orlando Sentinel, The Naples Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun. Now a full-time freelance writer, she writes for clients such as Hot Topic, New Balance, BoxLunch, and others.

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