I opened the box, took one look at him and started crying, running fingers over the vintage necklace he’d carefully wrapped, ropes of heavy stone, the sort that always stops me in my tracks in the store, but I didn’t know anyone ever knew how much I loved them. “Oh my gosh! How did you know? How did you remember?”

He smiled widely, bigly, deeply and said: “when you talk, I listen. And then I write it down.”

And that was the day I learned how to give a good gift, from the best gifter I’ve ever met.

How to Give a Good Gift

Psychologists and social scientists studying the art and ritual of gift giving have found most people tend to over-think. Rather than giving useful, needed, requested or thoughtful items, most givers go for novelty. But researchers have found clever surprises are rarely the best or most appreciated gifts. In a New York Times article titled “The Perfect Gift? It’s the One They Asked For“, author John Tierney explains:

Don’t aim for the “big reveal.” Many shoppers strive to find a sensational toy or extravagant piece of jewelry that will create drama when it’s opened. But drama is not what recipients want, according to a new study by Jeff Galak and Julian Givi of Carnegie Mellon University, and Elanor F. Williams of Indiana University. (via NYTimes)

So if giving better gifts means giving recipients exactly what they want, how do you know what they want? It’s simple. All you need is a cell phone.

Try This Trick to Give Better Gifts Year-Round

In the “notes” section of your cell phone, create a folder for everyone you’d like to gift to. Throughout the year, as you spend time with your people, pay attention. If they mention something they love–a store they love shopping at, a favorite bottle of wine, the best book they’ve ever read–write it down in your notes section. Keep a running list, and when it’s time to gift, refer to your notes to see what sort of things they’d really love.

The trick sounds simple, but it works for a number of reasons. First, because you always have your cell phone on you, so it makes it easy to track ideas in even the most unexpected moments. Second, because as humans we forget. So recording ideas in the moment they occur helps you avoid the last-minute pressure (almost always accompanied by brain blank) which so often happens as gift-giving deadlines approach.

Give Good Gifts, No Matter What the Season

Now that you’ve got a list of ideas for loved ones, refer to it often and look for ways to usher cherished gifts into their life–no occasion required. Looking at the list can help you keep dear ones front of mind, helping you tune into their truest desires, wishes and needs, and looking for ways to give the kinds of gifts they’ll love most.

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