Holiday gift buying can feel a little empty, when all of those endless lists, long lines at the mall and dollars spent lead to a 5-minute frenzy of flying wrapping paper and ribbon. But it doesn't have to be that way. The following tips can help make gift giving more meaningful for both the giver and the recipient.
1. Know the person
The most important thing in the exchanging of gifts is it shows that you really know the person well, and you really care about them. That generally means tailoring the gift to the recipient.
It's also important to consider practicality. A 2014 study found that gift-giving participants focus too much on the desirability of potential gifts. Actually the recipient participants preferred the more practical option.
Gift giving "is an expression of truly seeing the other person and knowing what they want," said Allison Pugh, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who studies consumption.
2. Donate in their name
Giving gifts to friends or to charity is linked to happiness. Research suggests that happier people give more to charity, and that giving more makes people happier, creating a positive feedback loop, according to a 2009 paper from Harvard Business School.
Moreover, charity-related happiness is highest when people give in a way that fosters social connection. So, try giving to the less fortunate in someone's name this holiday season — it might give you both a holiday glow.
3. Give handmade goods or hand-me-downs
New and store-bought is not always best. A study published in March 2015 in the Journal of Marketing found that people prefer buying homemade items for loved ones and were even willing to pay as much as 17 percent more for homemade things versus mass-produced items. The findings suggest that people feel that homemade items show more love, and love is what they want to express to the gift recipient.
Family heirlooms may be another good gift option. A 2009 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that when families hand down even a very depersonalized asset — money — through the generations, the symbolic value of the cash is greater than the numerical value alone.
4. Don't go overboard with anti-consumerism
Don't panic if your kid's holiday season list looks like the entire index of the Toys R Us catalog. A little bit of commercialism can help kids make connections with their peers.
"Children's stuff has a really intense social component, and by that, I mean it's almost a language that they speak with each other," said Pugh, who has studied how kids navigate consumerism.
5. Give experiences, not objects
If there's a golden rule of gifts, though, it's this: Give experiences rather than items. People who receive experiential gifts, such as concert tickets or a zoo membership, feel more connected to the gift giver than people who received material items, according to researchers from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
"If gifts are about expressing and forging love, one of the best ways to do that is with your own time," Pugh said. "That will always be a really powerful gift."