Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles What's the worst holiday gift you've ever received? For me, it's pretty easy. Uh... my mom used to consider Chanukah like a belated back-to-school holiday. We would get binders, pens, staplers. Once my mom wrapped this huge mystery present for my sister that she thought was a dollhouse. It wasn't a dollhouse. Uh...was a trash can. Most of us are actually terrible at giving gifts. About $70 billion dollars worth of presents are returned every year in the U.S. So how do we get... less terrible? Here are three ways to improve your gift-giving game around the holidays. One. Stop trying to make your gift so dame delightful. Research has shown that givers are obsessed with the moment of unwrapping a gift even more than the gift itself. We envision the look of delirious happiness on their faces and the ecstatic exclamations. Like, " Wow!" "Oh my gosh!" "You really know me!" Ironically, givers are selfish. We want something from giving, those looks of delight, those exclamations. This is why items like hyper-specific kitchen gadgets and fancy vintage clocks all seem like fantastic gifts. But it turns out, recipients often want things that are far more practical, things they can actually use. In one study, researchers asked givers and recipients to rate gifts along two metrics. Desirability, like a complicated but fancy coffee maker; and feasibility, like a coffee maker you can actually use without studying the instructions for several hours. They found that givers reliably chose desirable gifts, but recipients just preferred feasibility. So what's the most practical gift you can give that people might actually be grateful for? Two. When in doubt, give cash. When economists study gift giving, they're very concerned with one thing: waste. Let's say "hypothetically" that my grandmother buys me a sweater that I hate, and your grandmother buys you a sweater that you hate. Sorry, grandmothers! Before long, we're talking about billions of dollars of waste in the economy. Economists call it "deadweight loss" and they estimate that up to 30% of the value of all gifts is wasted. That means the company wasted time making the gifts. It means the giver wasted the time picking it up. And it means the recipients wasted time returning it. There's a way to fix this. There is a very specific gift that is always worth the exact same to both the giver and the receiver. It's called cash. The good thing about cash is that the receiver can always make use of 100% of its value. The bad thing about cold, hard cash is that... it's cold. It doesn't say anything except, "Here, take some money." So this is a conundrum. How do we design a gift-giving formula that is as efficient as cash and as sentimental as you want to be? Three. Just give people what they ask for. A good way to get what you want is—shocker, to tell people what you want. A 2011 study looked at Amazon wish lists to determine if people were more appreciative of gifts that were on that wish list versus gifts that were total surprises. It turned out that when people got gifts that weren't on their list, they consider them less thoughtful and less personal. Surprise is overrated; we're happier to get what we ask for. We do everything we can to keep gifts top secret. We wrap them so they don't look like they came from a store, we tear the price tags off. But we are spending money here. If you want to make your gift count, stop obsessing about the moment of unwrapping and surprise. Find out what the people that you love want and get it for them. This is "You Are Here," a show about the science of everyday life. I'm Derek Thompson. Thank you for watching.