As you make your list this year, we want you to think about holiday giving a little differently.
Before you start assigning dollar amounts to everyone and hunting around for products to buy and wrap, first consider whether the best gift for them is a thing with a price tag. According to the Five Love Languages, defined by marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman, people receive messages of love very differently, and only one of these categories involves actual physical gifts. Some people would rather receive acts of service or quality time instead.
In holiday-speak, the Five Love Languages can help you figure out who in your life responds best to which type of gift.
The Five Love Languages are:
Words of affirmationActs of servicePhysical touchQuality timeReceiving gifts
Don’t know your own love language—let alone which one your friends and family speak? “You can pick up cues about your friend or family member’s inclinations during everyday conversations,” explains Dr. Natalie Robinson Garfield, psychotherapist and author of “The Sense Connection“. Or you can always take the Love Languages quiz together. But in case you’re pressed for time, we’ve compiled this handy guide to help you decode who speaks what—and plot the best gift-giving strategy.
This holiday, limit buying “stuff” to just the people who want it, and you’ll have the best gift-giving season ever, in terms of green friendliness, time savings, thoughtfulness and money.
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Words of Affirmation
In sum: These are word folks: People who feel loved through words of affirmation want to hear you say you love them, or what they mean to you. They love sweet messages, notes, letters and spoken words of appreciation.
Signs your loved one speaks this language: This is probably the person who’s good at expressing how much you mean to her. (We commonly express affection in the language we’d like to hear.) People who speak this language also generally enjoy using words—they’re those who tend to explain verbally rather than physically. They might respond ecstatically to a nice compliment.
Great gifts: This is the type who will linger over the words of a card (sometimes more so than the gift), so for a words of affirmation lover, never leave out the card! Spend more time crafting a thoughtful sentiment—the more specific the better—and tell her exactly how much she means to you and why you value her. If you want to forgo a physical gift, this person may just as well appreciate a beautiful card, a meaningful letter or—if you have the creative chops—a poem.
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Acts of Service
In sum: Dad did always say you know your true friends by who’s at the other end of the couch when you move. These are the people who view helpful and service-oriented acts as signs you care: running errands, making a meal, helping out with a task.
Signs that your loved one speaks this language: This person feels connected through helpful actions, and is often volunteering to take things off your plate when you’re overwhelmed—and if you do something nice for him like grab him a cup of coffee or walk his dog, he feels more gratitude than if you had paid someone to do those things.
Great gifts: This person might not appreciate a physical gift as much as your doing something nice for him, such as cooking his favorite dinner, helping him throw a party, or assisting with a major work project. Consider one of those homemade “coupon books” for this receiver—filled with freebies for doing laundry, taking out the trash or bringing him breakfast in bed. If you do decide to buy this person a gift, consider spending less on something that has an act of service wrapped up in it—i.e. get a bag of gourmet coffee beans and attach a note saying that you’ll bring him a freshly brewed cup every morning.
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In sum: This is the relative who envelops you in a bear hug before you’ve even had a chance to set down your suitcase. Or the significant other who loves to hold hands. For them, touching is a way of telegraphing love.
Signs that your loved one speaks this language: People whose primary language is physical touch are usually easy to identify, as they tend to initiate physical contact. She’s the type to hug you hello or link arms when walking down the street—she’d never shy away if you used her shoulder as a headrest in the airport.
Great gifts: For a significant other who speaks this language, a romantic night of physical connection can be the best gift, so set the stage for some tactile action instead of buying a gift (it doesn’t have to just be sex—it can be massaging, touching or cuddling all night). For a non-significant other, wrap a gift and deliver it with a sincere hug. Or give the gift of touch, like a certificate for a manicure, pedicure or massage.
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In sum: This set just wants to spend time with you—these friends or family members prize your time and attention over all else. This person is thrilled when you sit at their counter chatting with them for hours as they bake, or join them for a day at a baseball game. While someone who likes gifts would be thrilled with two tickets to his favorite show, the quality time lover would consider your attendance with him as significant as the tickets.
Signs that your loved one speaks this language: They love distraction-free time spent one-on-one. He’s the type who finds it intrusive if you answer calls while hanging out together and may prefer to catch up in a quiet setting rather than go to a party or hang out with lots of people
Great gifts: This is another great place to save money, and build up your relationships with activities, not objects. Instead of buying something, devote a day to grabbing hot chocolate and ice-skating, going to the museum or whatever activity the person enjoys most. Consider gifts involving time together, like a romantic dinner, a show or a weekend getaway. And make sure to turn off your phone and make sure she knows that you’re 100% there.
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In sum: Many people view receiving physical gifts as messages of love, but it doesn’t make them mercenary—it’s just that hearing the words “I love you” doesn’t have as much impact as the delight they feel when they are handed a wrapped present or a bunch of flowers.
Signs that your loved one speaks this language: These folks may find sentimental meaning in physical objects, such as a locket passed down from a grandmother, an old baseball or a seashell found on the shore. They may collect things, or appreciate designer or quality objects. Another easy way to identify her? She’s the type who tends to buyyou small gifts to show how much she cares.
Great gifts: For this type, it’s more important that the object is thoughtful, not expensive. When buying for this person, think less about price and more about figuring out what she wants or needs. Pay attention to what kinds of brands she likes, what her taste is or anything she’s mentioned recently. This person will feel touched if you remember to get her that little brooch she mentioned several months ago when you both walked past it, even if it only cost $10, or a new yoga mat since she mentioned hers is falling apart. For this person, just don’t forget to wrap it nicely—part of her pleasure is in opening a gift!
To find out your own primary Love Language, take the quiz here.
Once you’re able to identify the Love Languages of those you, well, love, you’ll be prepared to start figuring out how much you can spend on each gift.