Looking for Unique Holiday Gifts? 4 Ways to Break out of the (Gift) Box

Every year, the push for holiday gifts seems to start earlier. And every year, we’re left with the same quandary: among the sea of gadgets, sweaters, jewelry, candles, colognes, chocolates, and wine baskets, how can we find truly unique gift ideas, presents that feel as rewarding to give as they are memorable to receive?

Most people understand that happiness isn’t something you can deck out in ribbons and tuck under a sparkly tree. But they may not realize that one of the keys to cultivating a lifetime happiness is at our fingertips: the ability to give to others in need.

A 2011 report in Psychology Today explains that when we give to nonprofits, charities, and other worthy causes, the pleasure centers of our brain are stimulated in a way similar to the effect of drugs and other, natural highs, such as exercise, mastering a new skill, or even romantic love. But the effects of charitable giving last far longer than the happy buzz from a glass of wine, and can even lead to long-term health benefits such as reduced blood pressure and stress levels, elevated moods, and increased feelings of gratitude.

So why not spread those positive emotions to a friend or loved one by giving a spotlight gift on their behalf? Here are four ways to find unique gift ideas for the holidays and beyond:

1. Think outside of the gift box. Meaningful holiday gifts start with rethinking our approach to what they symbolize. A new pair of pajamas might speak to the comfort and ease we’d like to give to a loved one, and they’ll probably be appreciated in the moment, but they’re not likely to be thought about much past the holidays.

Instead, tap into the often overlooked power of memory. Gifts that celebrate the recipient’s  accomplishments—for instance, a bench named in honor of your significant other in her favorite dog park, to commemorate a promotion she’s been working toward for years; or backpacks for schoolchildren in Haiti, where she spent several months in the Peace Corps—allow her to reconnect with an extraordinary moment or time in her life. And who doesn’t want to be reminded of their favorite moments?

2. Give creatively. Personal passions, unlike prewrapped department-store gifts, aren’t one-size-fits-all. It’s more challenging—but a lot more rewarding!—to give gift based on what the recipient loves or has dedicated his life to. If your uncle is a book lover, try giving a selection of new books to the local children’s library. Or if he’s a former soccer coach, give the gift of new sports jerseys to a youth soccer team in an underserved city. These gifts, given in his honor and named after him, are guaranteed to spark ongoing conversation—and the pride and gratification that come with making a difference in the lives of others.

3. Focus on experiences. If you’re always stumped on what to get the person who has everything, this is the solution for you. For instance, if your mother is a researcher who coauthored an important study, why not donate toward creating a lecture series in her name at her favorite university or museum? Or maybe your best friend was instrumental in bringing healthy lunch options to the local high school. Honor her by starting a fund in her name for an after-school cooking class, so students can develop a valuable skill while also tapping into their extracurricular interests.

Gifts that focus not on accumulation of material things but on experiences have been scientifically prove to increase happiness. They’re also gifts that give twice: first, they create a legacy to commemorate accomplishments or events that are important to the people you love, and second, they provide much-needed funds to organizations that often need them—which, in turn, keeps the generous exchange of ideas and experiences flowing.

4. Recognize that big doesn’t equal better. Your gift doesn’t need its own hangar or lighted glass display case to be spectacular, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Donating blankets to a woman’s shelter or camping supplies to a wilderness program says much more about you—and your recipient—than a piece of expensive jewelry.

As a 2006 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found, there’s a big difference between satisfaction and happiness in life. And those who give to others report much greater feelings of joy and contentment, and even experience more positive physical effects, than those who don’t. So why not skip the Black Friday sales this year and reap the benefits of giving holiday gifts that are meaningful and memorable, and that make a positive impact on the lives of people who need it?

pungl makes it easy to find and purchase unique gifts for the holidays and beyond. Join our mailing list below and get premier access to a variety of spotlight gifting opportunities that not only pay tribute to the recipient by naming the gift in his or her honor, but that also provide much-needed support to nonprofits whose values match your own.


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