Nothing is more stressful than gift shopping during the holidays. Buying a great gift for a girl can be difficult and frustrating, and holiday wish lists are usually full of high-priced, generic items that never quite deliver. More often than not, we’re left choosing between a Victoria’s Secret gift card and another J. Crew scarf as Christmas gets closer and closer.
And yet nothing can create more happiness—and bring you closer to the girl in your life—than the perfect gift, given in the perfect way.
So how do you go about finding the best Christmas gifts for her? And how are you supposed to know what she really wants?
That’s what our ultimate holiday gift guide is here to answer, based on our own extensive experience and the latest research on the psychology of giving.
Because at the end of the day, finding a girl the perfect present can be a fun, stress-free and meaningful experience for both of you. It just requires a new way of thinking about presents and the people we’re giving them to.
So here you go: Our ultimate holiday gift guide, with all of the best Christmas gifts for her, presented by The Art of Charm.
- A unique holiday experience
Before we get into actual gift ideas, we have to touch on one of the most fascinating discoveries about gift giving: that experiences make us happier than things.
During the holidays, we often get caught up in what to buy and how much to spend on it. Anyone who’s bought a gift for a girl has agonized over those two things, probably while scanning price tags on sweaters at The Gap.
Meanwhile, the research shows that something as simple as taking a girl on a special hike or giving her a used copy of your favorite book can create way more happiness than that $80 turtleneck. And yet guys always seem to go straight to Westfield every holiday season, hoping a physical gift will do the trick.
The research also shows that waiting for experiences tends to be more positive than waiting for possessions.
Which is a really cool pro-tip: Giving a girl a heads-up a couple weeks in advance that you have something special planned for the holiday is actually proven to heighten her experience, while giving her a heads-up that you’ll be handing her a present can actually diminish it.
Bottom line: Women are wired to enjoy what researchers call experiential purchases.
Does that mean you should replace all gifts with experiences? Maybe. They can easily have a stronger impact than material things. Taking in a Vance Joy concert or sharing a bottle of Malbec will always make her happier than buying her DVDs and a scarf—and not just because they’re more expensive.
But the real takeaway here is that material gifts are only part of the equation of great gift giving. Creating an experience through your gift is where the magic happens. It’s that experience that adds meaning and permanence to the physical thing.
So how do you do that?
By imagining when and why she’d use your gift—and how you can participate in that moment.
Handing your girl a new Jade yoga mat and then whisking her to a kick-ass yoga class, for example, will create much more happiness than just handing her a mat you grabbed from eBay. Similarly, buying two tickets to her favorite band’s concert and then making a surprise evening out of it means so much more than buying her the concert DVD.
You get the picture; the options are infinite. Beyond the actual gift, the key is to create an experience—and therefore a meaningful memory—of doing something special together.
- An (actually!) enjoyable holiday dinner
Let’s be honest: The holidays are a pretty stressful time for most of us.
Sadly—since Christmas and the New Year should be a time for fun, celebration and relaxation—the holidays have been shown to actually increase our stress levels pretty dramatically.
Between the mad rush to buy gifts, the family drama at the dinner table, and the inevitable disappointment when the whole ordeal is over, it makes sense that most people would rather do nothing at all.
Which creates an awesome gift opportunity.
Given the way the holidays usually go down, how much would your girl appreciate a fun, stress-free holiday dinner? What would that look like?
Maybe it’s a friends-only holiday meal (like more and more people are doing with Friendsgiving). Or maybe it’s an intimate, one-on-one dinner. Or maybe, if you guys are close enough, it’s accompanying her to her family Christmas dinner, and being the friend slash moral support slash parental drama-shield that night.
Either way, you’re instantly creating a more enjoyable holiday—and building on the value of experience over presents.
- A naughty gift
A little cliché, right? Sometimes. But there’s a way to make this one really stand out.
The key to the naughty present—whether it’s lingerie, a sexy book or something for the bedroom—is to make sure that it’s appropriate for your relationship and something she’ll definitely enjoy on her own. If it also creates an experience you can share together (like a private runway show or a new experience in bed), even better.
You have to make sure your gift lives up to those criteria, or it can seriously misfire. If you’ve been seeing your girl for a few weeks, for example, buying her lingerie might be too intimate too soon. At the same time, if you’ve been seeing her for a few months, and you know that see-through teddy you’re eyeing is something she’d never wear, then skip it.
Why? Because there’s nothing creepier for a girl—or more disappointing and alienating—than receiving something that just isn’t something she’d use. (Even worse: buying something that feels like it’s more for you than for her.) Especially if it’s meant as a shortcut to intimacy or a way to accelerate the relationship—no physical gift should ever be a replacement for actual attraction. But if it’s something she’d actually enjoy without you, then you’re onto something good.
As it turns out, the science here is also super interesting. Researchers have found that the satisfaction of receiving a gift she’d actually use is much greater—for both the giver and the receiver—than one that’s not as useful. In fact, studies show that she’ll tend to appreciate desired gifts more than unrequested ones, even if they are thoughtful.
That only multiplies for naughty gifts. Done well, they really can create happiness and intimacy. Done poorly, however, they can compromise the relationship pretty quickly.
Since we don’t want you to fall into that common mistake, here are a few insights.
Guys are usually terrible at this kind of gift. It’s always a last-minute rush to the mall and an awkward conversation with a salesperson at Victoria’s Secret. Use what you know about your girl to buy something you know she’d like, and never something you hope she’d like. Give it thought, and don’t phone it in.
If it’s something you can both enjoy together, even better. But it must be, first and foremost, a great gift for her.
It definitely helps to bounce ideas off of your female friends. They’re a wealth of knowledge about this stuff, and have received all sorts of gifts, good and bad. Use them as a sounding board, but don’t mistake their preferences for hers.
This year, a few of the hottest holiday items include elegant eye masks, exciting wearable tech, and made-for-travel fun. Rather than checking the box with these recommendations, use them as general inspiration to tailor a great gift to your girl.
Finally—and most holiday gift guides won’t tell you this, but we will—do not feel pressured to buy a naughty gift. It’s easy to feel like you have to during the holiday season, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no obligation to be overtly sexy, and there’s no cost to choosing a different gift. A meaningful present is far more important than a naughty one.
Of course, if you can do both, then you’re on the right track!
- The only gift card that works
When we were kids, cash was always more exciting than presents, right? But as adults, receiving cash just feels lazy, impersonal, or straight-up guilt-inducing, especially if she ends up using it to, say, pay the electric bill instead of buying herself a gift. (Although working lights is a pretty solid gift, it’s not too romantic.)
Gift cards are a great alternative, though. They give you the flexibility of cash, but allow you to invest meaning and thought at the same time—if you do them right.
The trick here is to pick a gift card that speaks to her uniquely. And then, once again, to turn it into an experience.
Let’s say your girl loves The Beatles and Taylor Swift, and she doesn’t have any of their music on her iPod. Giving her an iTunes gift card would be a pretty solid present. If she happens to be a huge book nerd, then an Amazon gift card is like hitting the lottery. Luckily, there are gift cards from all sorts of vendors, and many are available at your local CVS or Duane Reade.
You’ll then want to create an awesome experience around the gift. Give her the iTunes gift card, then book an evening to listen to the White Album and 1989 together. Or reverse the order: Book a fun road trip with your girl, then hand her the Amazon gift card a few days before, so she can download some new audiobooks for you guys to listen to together in the car.
Either way, plan the experience around the same time that you give the gift, so that the physical gift becomes a fun invitation to a much more intimate experience down the road. That shared moment gives meaning to the gift card—which is otherwise a pretty generic gift—and lasts far longer than whatever she decides to purchase with it.
- Work gifts that speak to her
Most of us spend the majority of our time at work or thinking about work. And that time is rarely fun—in fact, no matter what the job is, it’s usually pretty stressful. Which makes work a great place to brainstorm gifts that will make her professional life that much more enjoyable.
It’s hard to go wrong here, since most work-related gifts are immediately useful. If she’s on the road a lot, she’d probably love a new travel tote. If she works in a loud office, a new pair of Bose headsets. Even something as basic as a nice pen, an iPad case or a Spotify subscription can be great, since she’ll be sure to use it every day.
But beyond making her job better, the best Christmas gifts for her are the ones that make her better.
Does she need to get smart on business operations for her new restaurant gig? Buy her the best small business management book you can find, and offer to go through it together. Does she need to start following current events for her new analyst job? A subscription to The Economist will set her apart from her colleagues. Is she an illustrator? Opt for a nice pen and sketch pad.
This kind of gift gets really fun when you consider where she wants to be, and not just where she is right now. Buying a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for an aspiring chef could give her the inspiration to chase her dream of owning a restaurant. Similarly, offering to pay for her first design class can help her invest in the skills she needs to break out of her entry-level merchandising gig.
These are just examples, of course. Every girl is different, but every girl has career ambitions that could be served by a thoughtful gift from you.
Again, the key here is to make sure that these are gifts she actually wants, and not just gifts you wish she’d want. Always make sure that a work gift is in fact welcome, and not just something you’re projecting onto her. Just like a naughty gift, she should enjoy this one on her own.
In the process, we as men get to share in the happiness too. Researchers have found that spending money on other people actually makes us happier than spending it on ourselves. If you’re close with a girl, a great work gift can bring new joy and connection to your relationship.
And that’s our ultimate gift guide—a handy way to choose gifts that are useful, meaningful, affordable and personal all at the same time.
So stop obsessing over finding the best Christmas gifts for her. Done right, gift giving doesn’t have to be the stressful, superficial chore that it’s become. With a little thought, you can be spreading happiness and success through basic experiences that last a lifetime.
So have fun with your gift giving, and happy holidays!