The Perfect Gift is Probably Not What You Think

I’ve been shopping for holiday gifts, which raises questions. What makes a good gift? Is it better to surprise people, or to shop from a list they provide? Should I spend hours searching for just the right gift?

If you’ve asked yourself these kinds of questions, John Tierney wrote an interesting New York Times article, The Perfect Gift? It’s the One They Asked For.

He looked at the research, and it turns out:

  1. Focus on long-term enjoyment, not short-term drama. Recipients enjoy a gift more when it’s something they can really use, not something that’s a sensational reveal.
  2. It’s better to buy lots of people the same good present than to give everyone individual gifts that aren’t as good. We tend to think we need to give unique gifts, but recipients don’t care much about that.
  3. Re-gift without shame. Studies show that most people aren’t offended when their gifts are re-gifted.
  4. Take suggestions. If people tell you what they’d like as a gift, buy them what they’ve asked for instead of a surprise. (In my family, we’re all expected to write long lists for ourselves, to make gift-giving easier for each other.)
  5. If you give a gift card, make it as general as possible. The more specific it is, the less likely it is to be redeemed. People like flexibility.
  6. Gift-recipients enjoy a gift if it’s something they like, no matter how much time or effort went into its purchase. For gift-givers, however, putting time and effort into a gift makes them feel closer to the recipient. Pouring a lot of energy into buying a gift is something that is nice for the giver, not as much for the recipient.

Bonus tips from me:

  1. Items that are personalized seem more special, and these days, it’s easy to order personalized notepads, journals, mugs, sticky notes, etc.
  2. Think about The Five Love Languages. If your language is “Receiving Gifts,” remember that for other people, gift exchanges aren’t as meaningful as they are for you; try not to be hurt or angry if people don’t take the same time or effort that you do. And if the recipient of your gift speaks the language of “Receiving Gifts,” remember that to such a person, gifts have tremendous importance as expressions of love, so take gift-giving seriously.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Kira auf der Heide.

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Are You Using This Essential Parenting Tool?

“I saw major changes when I started using ‘Stop, Drop, and Breathe.’ The pause button keeps me from saying things I’ll be sorry for, and lets me phrase things so my kids will be more likely to listen. I think it helps my kids take a breath and decide to behave better, too.” – Daniel, father of four year old and eight year old.

You read these posts, so I know you try hard to be the best parent you can be. The times you mess up? I’m betting those are times when you’re stressed, distracted, overloaded, at the end of your rope. Then your child—predictably—acts like a child! Before you know it, you’re saying something you would never say if you were calm, in a tone that you would never use if you were feeling centered and emotionally generous. Those are the times that we do things we’re sorry about later.

I can’t promise that you won’t get stressed or overloaded—modern life makes that all too likely. And your child will definitely act childish—that’s in her job description. But there IS a tool for those tough moments, that can keep you from doing and saying things that you’ll be sorry about later.

This tool is your PAUSE Button. Once you pause, you can make the choice to shift gears. The more you practice, the better you get at it.

Here’s how. Sometime this week, you will feel annoyance, irritation, resentment, anger, or even rage in reaction to your child’s behavior. You will feel an urgent need to set your child straight. Unless someone is in physical danger, ignore that urge—that’s a sign that you’re in “fight” mode. Your intervention will be more successful if you calm down first.

So as soon as you notice that you’re getting irritated, turn away from your child and shift into Step 1. (You might want to post these five steps on your refrigerator so you have them handy.)

Step 1: Use your Pause Button: Stop, Drop, and Breathe

Stop. Just stop. Stop everything you’re doing. Close your mouth.

Drop your agenda. Just for now, let it go. Step away from the fight.

Breathe. Take three deep breaths to calm yourself, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you need more breaths, take ten. Becoming conscious of your breath stops your slide down the slippery slope toward losing it and lets you choose how to respond.

Step 2: Choose Love

The hardest part of calming down is choosing to calm down. When we’re in the grip of anger, we want to lash out, not calm down. Make a conscious choice to let the anger go.

Step 3: Change Your Mind

Interrupt the rush of “emergency” neurotransmitters by consciously using a mental antidote—an image or thought (some people call this a mantra)—that will make you feel more calm and emotionally generous. You might try “He’s acting like a child because he IS a child” or “He’s showing me he needs my help” or “It’s not an emergency.” (Not the mantra type? You don’t have to start “ohmming” in traffic. Just find a thought to interrupt that anxiety loop by reassuring your worried mind.)

Step 4: Calm Your Body

Notice the sensations in your body and breathe into the tight places. Shift those sensations by meeting them with compassion—try hugging yourself. Move your body to release the contraction—shake out your hands, splash water on your face.

Step 5: Once you’re calm

Go back to your child. Initiate a Do-Over. Set whatever limit is necessary or talk about what happened. “I’m sorry I raised my voice. I was pretty frustrated. Here’s what I meant to say. I’m worried we’ll be late if we don’t leave in five minutes. I need you to put your shoes on now. I’ll help you. Let’s work together.”

That’s it. Five simple steps that keep you from doing and saying things that you’ll be sorry about later. Simple, but not easy, especially in the beginning. But every time you use your Pause button and Choose Love, you’re rewiring your brain, so it gets easier. Before you know it, you won’t remember the last time you raised your voice. Gradually, your child will learn from your role-modeling.

Simple. Less drama. More love.

Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com and author of The Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life.

Image courtesy of Arleen wiese.

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