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5 research-based gift ideas that will be a hit

Updated: Feb 6

The science is clear. Spending money on others promotes happiness – for the giver.

What is equally as important is that research has found that giving a gift will often leave the person worse off than if they had the cash and could buy what they prefer, which is why I was motivated to write this article. I want you to give a rockin' gift!

Here are five rockin' and research-based gift ideas.

1. Recipients LOVE Sentimental Gifts

My uncle passed away nearly a decade ago. I always looked up to him and marveled at how he could have such a successful career and be a model father and grandfather. At his funeral, his 18-year-old granddaughter shared memories of her and him written in a diary. These memories spanned throughout her lifetime.

The diary wasn't hers. It was a high school graduation gift from her grandfather. He purchased the diary when she was born and wrote a brief note about every in-person interaction he had with her until she graduated high school.

He passed away weeks later. For the remainder of her life, she will hold those memories, every memory, in her hands.

We know from research that a great gift giver must see the world through the receiver's life. They must think deeply about what that gift will mean to them and the bond it will strengthen.

2. Buy Experiences

Experiences create more joy than material things, so what does this mean for holiday gifts? Buy a spa day and go together. Buy tickets for a ziplining adventure or helicopter ride through the city.

This past summer, my father took his entire family to the Swiss Alps and paid for nearly everything. He has taken my kids and me over multiple times. We typically camped and eventually stayed in a cabin as my father aged. We spent our time hiking in the mountains. This time there was a twist.

It was Father's day. While by myself, I noticed I could purchase a helicopter ride and land on the Jungfrau, the top of Europe in the Swiss Alps. For the size of our group, I would need two to fly up side by side. As you can imagine, it was expensive. And then it dawned on me that my father was pushing 80, and spending so much for an unforgettable moment in the grand scheme of life was well worth it.

Pictures cannot do this majestic experience justice, but the four in the sliding gallery below is my attempt. Three pictures are from the top of the mountain, the fourth is one of the mountain from one of our hikes.

My mother passed away years ago, yet he brought her up at the top of that mountain. Overwhelmed with emotion, he told me that their wedding song was Mountain Top, and the lyrics were as if they were written for him at that moment.

3. Write Meaningful Notes

Pick three things about your spouse you're grateful for and write them down in three separate notes. Spread out when to give the notes leading up to Christmas. The more surprised they are when they receive it, the better.

The notes don't have to be to your spouse. Think about people who have made a difference in your life who you have lost touch with, and wish you hadn't. You're on each other's Christmas card lists. This year, skip the Christmas card and write a heartfelt letter sharing why they are so important to you.

4. Give Time

Our spouses are busy, and sometimes there is no better gift than the gift of time. Perhaps you take on one of your spouse's responsibilities. We do know from research that women disproportionately tackle the tasks of managing the home. Pinpoint what she hates most and commit to doing it moving forward. When we asked women what they hated doing most, the tasks came pouring in.

If you're looking for a more permanent solution to better dividing the tasks at home, consider watching the documentary or reading the book Fair Play. And if you want to manage your time better, look no further than the book Time Smart.


Click here for a free Household Chore List.


5. Make a List and Check it Twice

Some of the ideas I've shared thus far are from a recent Hidden Brain podcast. The gift and happiness researcher shared this idea, and it's what he and his wife do.

Create a shareable document; in their case, it is a Google Doc. Add to the shared document items you would love to have or think you need as time passes. Randomly give your partner a gift from the list throughout the year, or surprise them with some of the gifts on Christmas.

Learn More

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The secret to gift giving. Hidden Brain Media. (2022, December 12). Retrieved December 13, 2022, from

Dunn, Elizabeth W., et al. "Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off." Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 23, no. 1, Feb. 2014, pp. 41–47, doi:10.1177/0963721413512503.

Dunn, Elizabeth & Aknin, Lara & Norton, Michael. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science (New York, N.Y.). 319. 1687-8. 10.1126/science.1150952.

Lowery, G. (2010, March 31). Cornell Chronicle. Glee from Buying Objects Wanes, While Joy of Buying Experiences Keeps Growing. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from

Kasser, T., Sheldon, K.M. Time Affluence as a Path toward Personal Happiness and Ethical Business Practice: Empirical Evidence from Four Studies. J Bus Ethics 84, 243–255 (2009).


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