5 Meaningful Ways to Give Better Gifts

Written by
Michael Wells

5 Meaningful Ways to Give Better Gifts

Written by
Michael Wells

5 Meaningful Ways to Give Better Gifts

Written by
Michael Wells
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Giving gifts is easy...

You can just buy some chocolates, or flowers, or maybe a watch. Or you can take someone to lunch ...

... and Boom, happy person, and instant appreciation for your efforts.


If you've taken this approach to gift-giving, you have probably noticed that not everyone appreciates the same kinds of gifts in the same way.

Also, that - beyond the gift itself - your intentions, timing, and the context in which you give the gift all have a huge impact on how the gift is received.

Good gift-giving is about much more than simply giving things & compliments, and chances are that you could be giving better gifts, with better intentions, and in a far better way,

Here are some things to consider.

First, check your intentions

Any gift you give is only truly a gift, when you expect nothing in return.

If you are giving a gift because you want something in return, even appreciation, you have already failed.

A gift needs to be 100% about the person receiving it, and 0% about you.

Nice guys & people-pleasers find this concept very difficult to embrace, because we have strong emotional attachments to how others see us, and respond to us. Embrace it anyway.

Practicing true generosity - where no one else even knows you did a good thing - is a powerful exercise. If you practice it regularly, it will change your metric - because the only befits you get are;

  • Self-respect, and self appreciation
  • Seeing someone happy, and the quiet knowledge that you made that happen
  • The happiness that comes from building a better world, and community around yourself.

Go deep on this, and adopt true generosity as a core practice. It will change your life, and your relationships.

Especially your relationship with yourself.

Be creative- go beyond things & compliments

When we think of giving, most of us think of giving things, or money, but...

Some people love getting things, or being taken to lunch. Others prefer a compliment, a clean kitchen, or a hug.

In his book The 5 Love Languages, author Gary Chapman describes 5 key ways in which humans experience the feeling of love.

  1. Words of Affirmation. Someone says something nice to you, about you, or gives you a verbal or written compliment.
  2. Acts of Service. Someone does something for you, like washing the dishes.
  3. Receiving Gifts. Someone gives you something.
  4. Quality Time. Someone gives you their undivided time & attention.
  5. Physical Touch. Someone touches you (with your consent).

If you know the person you're gifting well, you can probably identify their love languages, and then apply that to the gifts you choose for them,

Giving material gifts

This is the traditional "gift" we're all familiar with, but even here we can think outside of the box.


  • a wrapped birthday present
  • flowers
  • a single daisy you've plucked from the side of the road
  • buying someone lunch
  • buying someone a donut on the way to work
  • making and giving a paper rose
  • tickets to an event

I've noticed that for some people, the dollar value of the gift is a central factor in their enjoyment. To them it conveys how much you value them- particularly when that give involved some form of "sacrifice" on the part of the giver. If you're poor, and buy someone dinner, that's perhaps more meaningful than if you're rich and give the exact same gift.

Others place more emphasis on the emotional value of a gift. To these people, their child's finger paining has more value than a Rolex watch.

If you think about this carefully you'll come to an obvious conclusion... people are complex. We all have weird psychologies that affect our sense of value, our relationships to others, and how we respond emotionally to things.

All of these are part of the experience of receiving gifts.

The best advice I can give is to listen carefully, watch carefully, and learn what that person gravitates to. The more you know the person and specifically what they like, the better gifts you can give.

If you don't feel you know a person well enough, go for flexibility. Give the gift with a return receipt, or go for a gift certificate, or even money with a nice card. That's a much better experience for both you and the giftee, than an unwanted gift.

Giving words of affirmation

Any time you communicate to someone something positive about themselves, you are giving words of affirmation. There are many ways;

  • Give a compliment. Notice something significant and meaningful about someone, or how they affected you, and share that observation with them. This can be about how they look "Have you lost weight?" or dress "That shirt looks great on you." It can be about their personality "You seem very cheery today," or even their voice, "You know, you have one of the coolest voices I've ever heard."
  • Give recognition. Recognize someone publically at work, or around others, for their skills & contribution. This is more about complimenting their behavior or their work, than complimenting them directly.
  • Simply notice them. Simply making eye contact and smiling- showing that someone entered your world and caught your attention in a positive way, is a powerful type of affirmation.


Both spoken words, and written notes can be very powerful. Try both - and there are many forms of writing - a letter or email. A post-it note. A txt message. An airplane writing smoke in the sky.

Often, words of affirmation are amplified when others - especially that person's peers - are present.

When you are a man complimenting a woman, compliments about her physical form have a risk of coming across as sexual and therefore - when not wanted - "creepy." Unless you are intending to give a sexual compliment ( which has its place, and its own best delivery ), you can avoid this entirely - compliment her sense of style, her fashion, her voice, even her hair. Anything that isn't likely to be taken sexually.

Start there. Even if you're attracted to her, your attraction doesn't have to be the first thing you lead the interaction with. More advice on approaching women respectfully here.

Giving quality time

Quality time is about giving of yourself - giving a slice of your life to someone. That has immense value, so treat is at such.

The amount of time you give does not correspond to the value of that time. Attention is a much better measure. Two minutes of undistracted attention can be much more meaninful than two hours watching a movie together.

When practicing this, give your full, undivided attention. Practice good eye contact, active listening, and put your phone away.

Performing acts of service

Do something for someone. Again, this doesn't need to be a big investment - like helping someone move house - in order for it to be powerful.

  • Wash the dishes
  • Offer to help someone carry their groceries
  • Help someone put their coat on
  • Introduce someone to someone else you know, either as a prospective friend, business prospect, or even a romantic connection

I live next to a steep hill, in the student district of Auckland central. Every day, there are international students fighting to go up or down the hill with giant roller bags that probably outweigh them.

One of my favourite ways to practice connection is to offer to help. So far I've probably helped 20 people, 19 of whom have gratefully said "yes." I've met people from at least 5 different countries, practiced Chinese and Japanese, and even gotten phone numbers. It was fun for me, free exercise, and each time, they appreciated my gesture deeply.

Giving physical touch

Simple gestures such as a warm handshake or a pat on the back can be very powerful ways of expressing trust and appreciation towards someone.

Even standing near someone, walking with them, or direct eye contact - fall into this category.

For someone you have a close enough connection with, who is comfortable with this- a hug is very powerful.

When you know someone values physical touch, but you're not certain if they'd appreciate it from you, ask. "Can I give you a hug?" Or, buy them a nice shoulder massage.

Physical touch must be used very carefully, particularly from men towards women. Approach it like a high-explosive - lethally powerful -and in need of careful handling. If you choose to use it, remain hyper-aware at all times of her reactions so you can stop your approach as soon as you detect discomfort.

Where, when, & how - context matters

Imagine you're deeply in love. You've met the woman of your dreams. She is your equal, in every way, and deeply loves you as well. You've had an amazing ring crafted, just for her. Would you get down on one knee in a public toilet and ask for her hand in marriage?

My guess is no, because intuitively you already understand the importance of context.

Timing. Make sure they're available, and ready to enjoy a gift - physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Place. A powerful gift can evoke powerful emotions. Those memories will be even more special when you pay attention to the details, like the place you attach those memories too. It's the icing on the cake.

People. Should there be people around? If yes, then who, and why? In the same way that criticizing someone in front of people can be far more damaging, delivering some types of gifts can be far more powerful.

Be mindful here- having other people around changes the context as to how someone feels they can respond.

Complimenting someone's work is generally good. Complimenting their work in front of their workmates can be even better... a double gift... words of affirmation and social recognition. Nice.

But... asking someone to marry you on live TV may not be appreciated by the person you're asking. They may feel pressured to say yes, even when they want to think about it, or talk about it with you privately.

Always consider the power & pressure that having people around puts on them, and use this knowledge respectfully.

Make it about you, too

“Wait, didn't you just say...”

Yes, yes I did. Giving should be 100% about the person receiving the gift,

However, if you have a deep connection with this person, and know them well - the gift itself can be about both of you. Your history, your relationship, special memories you've shared.

You can see this easily, with a simple example. Imagine you give a classy "Best Employee" wall plaque to someone. It has a whole different meaning if you're their boss than it does if you're their neighbor.


Hopefully you have some new ideas about gift-giving now.

Here's a quick mental checklist-

  1. Why do I want to give a gift? Am I secretly expecting anything in return? Let go of that. This is 100% about them, and only them. Expect nothing back.
  2. What gift would be most meaningful to this person right now? What are their values, interests & hobbies? Use the 5 love languages, and your knowledge of this person as a guide to figure out what's most meaningful to them. Make the gift personal from you.
  3. How, When & Where can I give that gift most meaningfully, and in the most memorable way?

Even considering these things a little bit more than you used to will steer you towards better choices, and help you create better memories.

Because that's the whole point.

First published on 
October 24, 2018
. Last updated on 
December 18, 2022

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