Seven Ways to Become the Best Gift-Giver Ever

The holiday season is the perfect time to show the people in your life how much you care about them, and one of the best ways to do that is by finding just the perfect gift—the kind of gift that is met with genuine joy and appreciation rather than a forced smile and polite thanks.

Finding the perfect gift for each person in your life is truly an art—it takes time and thought to come up with something that will really “wow” the recipient and make them truly happy.

Many of us stress out when faced with finding a gift for a spouse, partner, family member, child, coworker, or friend. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be difficult! Follow these easy guidelines to become a consistently excellent gift-giver—one who amazes and delights each and every time.

These seven tips come courtesy of John Ruhlin, founder of the gifting strategy firm Ruhlin Group and author of Giftology.

Tip #1: Think, Listen, and Get Organized

A gift is more than a thing, it’s a meaningful expression of your feelings for someone and a way to make them feel acknowledged and important. A great gift not only brings joy to both the giver and the receiver, it can help relationships grow and thrive.

While you might occasionally luck into the perfect gift, in most cases being a good gift-giver takes work and focus. Don’t start thinking about a gift a week before the event—make it a habit all year long to pay attention when people talk about their dreams, goals and interests, and find a way to remember and record that information. If you prefer an electronic means of keeping track of gift ideas, try a note-taking app like Evernote or OneNote.

Tip #2: You Don’t Need an Occasion

Gifts on birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are nice, but expected. Up your gift-giving game with the occasional gift given for no reason at all.

You can even be systematic about this by adopting what Ruhlin calls the “planned randomness” method of gift-giving throughout the year. That might mean, for example, someone’s favorite flowers in May, a beloved book in August and a longed-for luxury chocolate bar in October. “Make a plan for gift-giving moments throughout the course of a year, because it’s too easy to slip through the cracks in our busy lives otherwise,” he recommends.

You can also schedule gift-giving around times you know could be stressful or challenging for a person in your life. A thoughtful gift can soften the blow of having a spouse away for a long stretch of business travel, for example, and giving a gift to someone on the anniversary of a death in their family or friend circle can show them you’re thinking of them.

Tip #3: The Gifts You Give are Not About You

Humans are selfish, and our gifts often reflect our own desires and interests rather than those of the recipient. Remember the episode of The Simpsons where Homer gives Marge a bowling ball engraved with his own name? Hopefully you’re not that selfishly oblivious, but it won’t hurt to remind yourself to make your gifts entirely focused on what the other person values, wants and needs.

When choosing a gift, ask yourself these questions:

  • What would the recipient genuinely enjoy?
  • How can I make this gift truly personal?
  • Does this gift reflect the recipient’s interests, needs, and passions?

One way to personalize a gift is to engrave it with the recipient’s name or, even better, one of their favorite quotes. This can turn even a basic item into something truly meaningful.

Tip #4: Give Useful Gifts That Will be Used Over and Over

A great bottle of wine might seem like the perfect gift for an oenophile, but once the empty bottle goes into the recycling bin, the gift is gone and maybe forgotten.

Why not give a gift that can be kept, displayed, and used frequently—something with built-in longevity? “Few of us actually need more stuff in our lives—but we will always find room for artifacts that are deeply meaningful to us,” says Ruhlin.

A better gift for that wine lover might be a high-end wine opener—believe it or not, some cost $200 or more. Having one of these highly engineered tools will mean a lot to the right person, and you can bet you’ll be remembered every time it’s used at meals, dinner parties and other gatherings.

Another gift with “legs” is cutlery, such as a great chef’s knife or even a paring knife. Why? Because people who cook value high-end cooking tools and use them daily. Imagine being thought of fondly every time someone reaches for the kitchen knife you gave as a gift—even if they’re just cutting some carrots!

Here again, engraving can take a gift to the next level. Imagine a stylish, well-made chef’s knife with a quote from the person’s favorite celebrity chef engraved on the handle. Now you’ve really got a gift with impact, and the person will always remember it was you who gave it.

Tip #5: Don’t Overlook Experiences

We often assume that a gift must be tangible to be appreciated. But giving someone an experience can make a huge and lasting impression.

Wait, you say, isn’t an experience a lot like that bottle of wine? It’s gone for good once the event (or trip or concert) is over! But researchers are discovering that people who spend money on experiences may be happier than people who buy material items—perhaps because the joyful memories from a great experience last longer in our brains than do the joys of an object.

Ultimately, though, the biggest factor may not be experiences versus goods. It all boils down to meaning: Whatever the type of gift, if it isn’t deeply important to the recipient, it might not get the reaction you’re hoping for.

Tip #6: Give a Gift That the Recipient’s “Inner Circle” Can Also Enjoy

One way to really make an impression is to give a gift that the recipient’s most valued friends and family members can also appreciate and enjoy. By extending your gift-giving to an entire family or group, you actually make the recipient a bit of a hero in the eyes of those people, and everyone loves to feel like a hero! Giving a friend who is a dad tickets to a ball game could make him a hero in his kid’s eyes, for example, so you’re giving a sort of double gift—the gift itself, and the feeling of being a hero in the eyes of someone you love.

Don’t forget your own inner circle, either. Ruhlin tells the story of using his connections to get his family’s favorite babysitter “meet and greet” backstage passes for a concert she was attending. The gift was technically for the sitter, but in a way it was also a gift for Ruhlin’s wife, who was thrilled by how happy Ruhlin made her favorite babysitter, and how the gift helped cement the bond between the babysitter and the family.

Tip #7: Make it Yourself

Handmade items can’t be beat, because they clearly show the time and effort you invested in creating something unique for the other person.

Not sure what to make, or don’t have the right supplies or equipment at home? More and more cities have “incubators” and other share-economy-style membership clubs you can join. A woodworking incubator, for example, might give you access to a full studio and woodworking tools you don’t personally own. In many cases, these incubators offer classes so you can learn to make items with the resources they provide.

Ready, Set, Go Gift!

You can never go wrong by showing appreciation to the people in your life you care about. But if you want to raise your game and give gifts that truly wow those people you most want to impress, we recommend you consider taking some or all of these seven action steps. Becoming a world-class gift-giver can enable you to spread serious joy.