One component that comes to mind during holiday season is the aspect of gift-giving. Whether it is to simply thank a colleague for their hard work, or whether it is a Christmas or a Hannukah gift, gift giving is a salient aspect during this time of the year.

Could gift giving have benefits to the giver? What type of gifts should people give? And does the type of gift carry in social consequences? Indeed, various researchers have previously investigated these questions. We elaborate on these below.

Could gift-giving also have positive implications for the self?

In line with this possibility, research has found that spending more money on others is related to greater subjective well-being, whereas spending money for personal needs and desires were not necessarily related to greater happiness (Dunn, Aknin & Norton, 2008). And this finding seems to hold true even when the spending allocations are as small as $5.00. Interestingly, these researchers also found that people are not necessarily aware of the benefits that prosocial spending may incur (Dunn et al., 2008). Therefore, if possible, during this holiday season, it may be worthwhile to spare some money to spend on others.

What kind of gifts do people prefer to give and receive?

Across several studies, Aknin & Human (2015) found that people (i.e., gift-givers) in general prefer to give gifts that reflect the interests of the recipient (i.e., gift-receivers). Put differently, gift-givers prefer to display their knowledge of the gift-receivers through their gifts. Moreover, when surveyed, gift-receivers also indicated that they preferred to receive gifts that are more in line with their own self-interests (Aknin & Human, 2015). Therefore, people reportedly preferred to give and receive gifts that reflect the gift-receiver’s interests and passions.

But do these types of gifts promote relationship closeness?

Typically, we give gifts as a token of our love and appreciation for the gift-receiver. Another potential benefit of giving gifts, especially personalized ones, is to promote social connections and closeness for already established relationships. Are there specific types of gifts that might enhance the benefits to the relationship? Across a series of studies, Aknin & Human (2015) found that gifts that reflect the gift-giver’s (as opposed to the gift-receiver’s) interests and passions help promote relationship closeness. What could possibly explain this counter-intuitive finding? Gifts that reflect the gift-giver can be construed as an act of self-disclosure, which is a fundamental building block of relationship closeness. In other words, giving gifts that are more indicative of the gift-givers seems to benefit relationships more through increased closeness, possibly because these types of gifts may allow gift-givers to engage in self-disclosure.

How to consolidate the seemingly contradictory findings that 1) people prefer to give and receive gifts that reflect the gift-receivers interests, and 2) gifts that reflect the gift-givers interests are the ones that promote relationship closeness? It seems as though people may lack insight into what type of gifts might actually promote pro-relationship outcomes. Therefore, during this holiday season, consider giving a gift that might reflect the one’s own interests and passions which may help to promote relationship closeness with the gift-receiver.

In sum, it seems that giving gifts could have both positive social and personal implications. Even spending a small sum of money on others could contribute to one’s happiness. Moreover, next time, when contemplating on what type of gift to give, consider gifting something that may disclose one’s own self-interests and passions to the receiver. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive at first, this may help foster closeness between the gift-giver and the receiver.


Aknin, L. B., & Human, L. J. (2015). Give a piece of you: Gifts that reflect givers promote closeness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 60, 8–16.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687–1688.