You probably spend a month or more before the holidays trying to figure out what kinds of gifts to get for people without them finding out. The surprise is half the fun. However, you might be better of just asking.
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As CNN explains, while the self-imposed mystery of giving surprise gifts can be fun, it often results in lame gifts. Sometimes that's as simple as getting a gift that the person doesn't really want. However, there's a more sinister trap you can fall into: getting a gift that has maximum wow-factor when they unwrap it, but doesn't make them very happy in the long run:
"Givers pick gifts hoping to make the receiver as happy as possible at the moment of the gift exchange, but receivers prefer gifts that will make them happy during the course of their ownership and use of their gift," said study co-author Jeff Galak, associate professor of marketing at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon.
In the race to have the most immediately impressive gift you can, it's easy to overlook what will really make them happy in the long run. Of course, the easiest way to find out what will make them happiest is to ask, but we tend to avoid that for cultural reasons:
"The single best thing that gift givers can do is to ask recipients what it is they want," Galak said. "The problem is that in our culture, it is taboo to do so. Somehow it seems like by asking what someone wants, it makes you, the giver, seem less thoughtful. This just isn't true. Gift recipients are more happy with requested gifts because they are the things that they actually want."
The taboo of asking stems from the idea that if you have to ask, you don't really know what will make your recipient happy. While it's nice if someone pays enough attention to remember a gift you name-dropped, that's also a little unfair. We shouldn't expect people to read our minds when we have relationship problems, so why expect mind-reading when it comes to giving gifts? Ultimately, it may be uncomfortable but if you're not sure what to get someone, just ask. They will probably end up happier that way than if you guess.