How to Choose a Great Gift for Your Friends

Tis' the season for shopping, and finding the perfect gift that can express your love and affection for the people you love, all with a dollar sign attached. No pressure or anything.

If gift giving seems sadly commercial and materialistic, consider the broader context. Gift exchange is "a time-honored tradition of reciprocity that has existed in human (and even monkey) culture throughout the ages," writes the Narcissist Anthropologist.

Gift exchange is a form of social bonding that solidifies human relationships, and it doesn't matter what you give so much as that you do, and that your gift expresses some value of the relationship. Here's how to give your friends a great gift.

Reflect the Relationship

Think about how you and your friend bond. Is it at a weekly Tuesday night dinner date at the hottest restaurants? Sharing opinions about the books you're reading?

"Gift-giving can honor — in both obvious and subtle ways — the reasons you and your recipient are connected and how far your relationship has come," writes Bonnie Wertheim in the New York Times. "That said, if the primary facet of your relationship is humor, there's nothing wrong with a gag gift."

Don't Think About Cost

No, this is not carte blanche to buy your bestie that $600 Ulla Johnson dress she's been coveting for months. What we are saying is that you really can't put a price tag on the value of a friendship. And not having a big gift budget could actually make you a more thoughtful and sensitive gift giver, reports Real Simple, since research shows having more cash can actually reduce compassion.

Personalize It

Even a simple store-bought gift, like blooming narcissus bulbs or a beautiful bottle of champagne, can feel even more special if you make it personal.

"Even when I gift an item that is store bought, I personalize it in some way," Nancy Soriano, living editor at Rue La La told Real Simple. "I have been known to re-wrap Trader Joe's dark chocolate dinner mints in clear cellophane bags with silver silk ribbons—perfect for a dinner party."

With someone you're close to, that could mean making a handmade card with glitter and stamps that includes an inside joke or expression only the two of you know. See, bonding! Intimacy!

Meet a Need

Think about what's going on in that person's life. Did they just plant a garden, buy a record player, or move into a new house?

"Gifting can be an opportunity to riff on the ways they've already spent their own money," advises the New York Times. Think: monogrammed gardening gloves, a stack of LPs, or a lush fig plant.

Give an Experience

You're a duo, so factor yourself into the gift of time spent together. Plan an afternoon of wine tasting, snag concert tickets, or book that impossible-to-get reservation for the two of you to enjoy together.

Or give your pal an experience she can treat herself to for some much-needed me time. Massages, pedicures, and tarot readings are all good bets.

Think About What You Would Want

If your friend often admires your taste in jewelry, or comments on the framed prints you have on your living room wall, take that as a cue. Give her the dangley earrings by a local jeweler you've been eyeing, or scoop up some art at an indie holiday bazaar.

Spy On Their Wishlists

Digital snooping isn't always a bad thing and can result in some pretty stellar gifts. Spy your pal's Etsy and Amazon wishlists or the stuff she's pinning on Pinterest. When she unwraps the vintage poncho/hardback/evil eye bangle she's been wanting for ages, she'll be all, "How did you know?!" You can slyly say you just had a feeling.

Just Ask

Everyone has the notoriously hard-to-shop for friend. The one who has impeccable taste and seems to have everything. In those moments, it's OK — nay, brilliant — to call in the reinforcements. Ask their significant other or sister if they've got some ideas. Chances are, they'll tip you off on the beautiful woven baskets your friend was spying just the other day.

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