7 Habits of Thoughtful Gift Givers

Need a little help channeling your inner Santa? These simple tips make it easy to get into the spirit of giving.

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Photo by Sally Anscombe/Getty Images

“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” ― Mother Teresa

'Tis the season for giving. And research suggests that doing so may help bust stress, promote happiness, and even lead to a longer lifeLooking to get in touch with your generous side? Embrace these seven habits of truly thoughtful gift givers.

They plan ahead.

Considerate gift giving is as much about planning as it is about how well you know the person. Take time to think about the recipient's personality and interests to figure out how he or she will get the most value or gratification, suggests Elizabeth Hebda, shopping expert at LivingSocial. Map out a list of your ideas to help you stay organized and make sure you find the perfect fit for everyone.

Thoughtful gift givers don't focus on cost.

The practice of thoughtful giving offers a wealth of benefits, but that doesn't mean givers should focus on big price tags. In fact, thoughtful gift givers don't dwell on the cost of presents. It seems that having more cash could actually reduce compassion, according to Berkley research, and isn't compassion what this time of year is all about? So don't sweat it if you don't have a lot to spend. Instead, get creative.

They make gifts personal.

Gifting is an opportunity to let a person know how much you appreciate and love them, and show how well you know them, says Nancy Soriano, living editor at Rue La La. "Even when I gift an item that is store bought, I personalize it in some way," she says. "I have been known to re-wrap Trader Joe's dark chocolate dinner mints in clear cellophane bags with silver silk ribbonsperfect for a dinner party."

If you're buying for someone who seems to have everything, consider gifting an experience, says Hebda. Book a massage, take them to a wine tasting event, or grab a couple of tickets to a concert or show. If you're buying for a parent, taking their kids for an evening could be the best gift of all. "Think back to your last conversation," says Hebda. "Did they talk about wanting or needing something? Are they going on any upcoming trips? Was there a particular topic that got them excited?"

And they enjoy giving more than receiving.

Nothing beats the feeling of giving a gift, and a recent study may prove it. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbra found that people would rather take on costs themselves in order to help others. In another study, participants chose to give away an average of 40 percent of a gifted sum of cash rather than keep it for themselves. There was also a clear difference in their brain activity. When people donated money, the dorsal and ventral striatum and the ventral tegmental area, the part of the brain we would expect to show activity when receiving a reward, actually lit up more than when the participants acquired the money for themselves. The bottom line? Our brains consider the act of giving a positive reward.

Thoughtful gift givers can also get crafty.

Homemade gifts can add a bit of sparkle to the holidays. Love to knit? Keep your friends or family warm with mittens, a scarf, or a hat. Right at home in the kitchen? Whip up some special treats and place them on a pretty, vintage dish. "One of my favorite things to make and gift is a 'baking canister,'” says Soriano. "I fill a canister with ingredients for a cake, brownies, or pancake batter with exact measurements. I attach a handmade recipe card around the top of the lid."

They think about the presentation.

Thoughtful gifters pay attention to detail, including how their gifts are wrapped. See what you have around your house to customize generic packaging. Soriano recommends using pretty fabric or towels to cover something like a bottle of wine. You can also tie on a decoration that fits the theme of your gift, such as a small gingerbread ornament to hang on the tree if your present is a batch of homemade cookies.

When in doubt, they ask.

There's always someone on the list who leaves you stumped. If you're truly at a loss, it's totally OK to ask for a little help from a close friend or family member of even the person you're shopping for. Also, remember that the old cliché​ about the thought counting is often spot-on. "The act of giving a gift is in itself a thoughtful gesture," says Soriano.

Plus, you can always chime in to our #FindMyGift Twitter stream, where we help Real Simple readers brainstorm gift ideas for everyone on their list.