Monday, August 13, 2007

How to write the best birthday card ever

Last week I attended a 'Science of Happiness' seminar in Manhattan. In addition to some very interesting data on the benefits of realizing and expressing gratitude, the tutor described some nifty ideas about gift giving. Well, in fact what she described wasn't supposed to be a tips-and-tricks for greeting card writing, but you'll see how this can be applied....

Studies show that people feel most grateful for a gift when:

1. They think it's valuable

2. The intention of the gift is to be of benefit

3. The gift meets or exceeds social expectations.

So, to enhance the good feelings of your recipient towards your gift, consider how you could apply the above when handing over the package. Something a little more detailed than a note scrawled with "Happy Birthday! From XXX xxxxxx" may actually enhance the value of the gift for the receiver, and for you as well.

For instance, giving away a favorite book. Whether or not it is the ACTUAL book, describing what the tale means to you, when you read it, how it changed your outlook or what you've learnt as a result - all will enhance its worth to the receiver.

Alternatively, if you choose a gift could help the receiver in some way (because of knowledge you have about their circumstances or personality) then again, it is likely to be well received. For instance, buying a new coffee-cup set for that friend who makes a great Saturday morning fry-up, because you noticed that their cups are all chipped or cracked. Make a point of telling them about the thought processes behind it, the effort that went in.

We all like to feel that others are thinking about us. Choosing a gift because you understand the way the recipient THINKS is so much more valuable. What this data implies is that sharing the process, as well as the end result, enhances the experience for both parties.

There are exceptions to every rule of course - re-gifting old crap doesn't apply when it comes to giving away something of value. Although I have to admit I gave away some comedy socks once....although when I think about it, Rule 2 applied in that case - I knew the person I was giving them to was actually going to wear them.

As for Rule 3, meeting social expectations.... well, this one is more difficult. Either the gift does, or doesn't meet social expectations. Wedding lists are the only way that springs to mind to definitely meet social expectations. Either that or the nauseating idea of celebrity-endorsed fodder.

So, next time your gift has a story, tell it! The benefits of the positive emotion of gratitude will be shared between you, in addition to the cake and champagne.

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