This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 10, 2012.
Your best friend from college is getting married, and you find yourself wondering whether that set of 600-thread-count sheets from her registry adequately conveys your well wishes. Then again, maybe you should try to show your friend how thoughtful you truly are, for go the registry and pick out something you know she would love even more.
According to a series of studies from Dr. Francis Flynn, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, the answer is clear: Choose from the registry.
Flynn and Harvard researcher Francesca Gino surveyed both wedding gift givers and recipients. Givers reported thinking that recipients would appreciate gifts not selected from the registry as much or more as gifts from the registry because the former showed more thought and care went into the gift. The couples who received the gifts, however, reported feeling greater appreciation for the gifts they registered for.
In fact, Flynn said, some gift recipients even viewed the givers who did not use the registry as less thoughtful because they didn’t listen to what the couple explicitly said they wanted.
Flynn admits that Miss Manners might oppose his gift-giving advice, and acknowledges that sentimental gifts will always be well received – if the gift giver is very confident that the recipient will understand and share the sentiment.
“It’s better to listen to what people want versus saying, ‘I’m going to come up with the most clever and creative gesture,’ ” Flynn said. “I do believe there are better gifts (than what’s on the registry), but I’m not sure you’re going to come up with them.”
Other noteworthy findings from Flynn’s gift-giving studies include that, although most gift givers believe that money is the least thoughtful gift (and thus the least appreciated), couples reported appreciating the extra cash even more than the items on their registries.
And more expensive gifts do not garner more appreciation than less expensive ones. (Givers usually assume they will.) This holds true for the mother of all wedding-related purchases: the engagement ring. Brides reported appreciating expensive rings the same amount as inexpensive rings, even though grooms imagined their sweethearts’ gratitude would increase with price.