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When It Comes to Gift-Giving, the Thought Doesn't Matter After All

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If you’re feeling pressure to buy the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah present, experts have some advice for you: Don't try so hard. According to The New York Times, social science researchers say that most people are satisfied with receiving a generic, boring, or even regifted gift instead of one that’s surprising, novel, thoughtful, or unique. To put it bluntly, as researchers concluded in a 2012 study, "If you want to give a gift that someone will appreciate, then you should focus on getting a good gift and ignore whether it is a thoughtful gift or not" [PDF].

Next time you hit the mall, follow a few guidelines to save time and effort. One major rule of thumb is to buy loved ones a practical object—not a novelty object intended to astonish or delight, the Times advises. In a recent study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, business professors from Indiana University and Carnegie Mellon University found that gift givers often focus on how someone will react when they open their present, and not on whether the gift is actually something they will keep and use.

"We exchange gifts with people we care about, in part, in an effort to make them happy and strengthen our relationships with them," Jeff Galak, a study co-author and associate professor of marketing at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a press statement. "By considering how valuable gifts might be over the course of the recipient's ownership of them, rather than how much of a smile it might put on recipients' faces when they are opened, we can meet these goals and provide useful, well-received gifts."

To avoid feeling like you're giving a boring gift, study co-author Elanor Williams recommends pairing a practical gift with a fun accessory, like a blender and margarita mix, for instance.

Studies also show it's best to just give the people what they want. Researchers from Stanford and Harvard business schools published research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that revealed that—gasp!—most people prefer getting something they’ve asked for.

If your loved ones don't provide you with a wish list, there's no shame in giving a gift card—just choose one that gives them flexibility in how they use it. A study published in The Journal for Consumer Research found that people are less likely to redeem a gift card if it’s to a specific institution. “For example, a giver might personalize a gift card for a friend who loves sports by getting him a gift card for his favorite sporting goods store or a local sports venue,” the study’s lead researcher, psychologist Mary Steffel, said in a press statement. "However, the sports lover might prefer a more general card, like a Visa- or Mastercard-backed gift card, as it would allow him to purchase sporting equipment, tickets to a sporting event, or anything else that he might want or need.”

Another tip: Don’t feel like you need to give everyone in your life a personalized gift—especially when the recipients don’t know each other. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that the more specific you get with your presents in order to avoid giving the same gift to multiple people, the more likely you are to choose one that someone doesn’t like—so if you’ve found an object that will win over everyone on your holiday list, stick with it. For example, if several of your friends like sports, go ahead and give them all subscriptions to a sports magazine.

There are eights days left until Hanukkah begins and nine until Christmas—happy shopping!

[h/t The New York Times]

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Animals
Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
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When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

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5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree
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What’s the environmentally safest way to dispose of your Christmas tree? It’s hard to say. Grown, managed, transported, and recycled efficiently, a real Christmas tree’s environmental impact should be near neutral. Unfortunately, not all Christmas tree plantations are equal in their environmental impact.

The most eco-friendly way is to leave the tree in the ground, where it belongs, so you never have to dispose of it. But then you don't have a Christmas tree in your house to bring festive cheer. One thing you can do is be environmentally smart when it comes to the tree's disposal. After this festive season, why not try one of these eco-friendly methods.

1. CHIP IT.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a big wood-chipper, you may be able to chip the entire tree. Wood-chip is great as a decorative landscaping material. But if you really want to do great things for the environment (and if you have access to a lot of Christmas trees), you could make a bioreactor to denitrify water. Nitrates are put on farms across the world to help increase crop output, but a considerable amount is washed away into lakes and rivers where it’s disastrous for fish and potentially toxic for people. A wood chip bioreactor encourages the growth of bacteria that break down the nitrates in the drainage water, reducing the amount that gets into the water supply. It's not a simple project, however. To make one, you have to dig a big trench, get the water to flow through said trench, and fill it with wood chips. More info can be found here [PDF].

2. CRAFT IT.


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If your tree hasn’t yet let go of its needles—and you haven’t yet let go of Christmas, get crafty with it. Cut off small branches and bind them around a circle of wire to make an attractive wreath. This looks even better if some of the cones are still attached. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could set up an essential oil extractor to get a supercharged Christmas scent. If you are already distilling alcohol, you have everything you need (here's how to do it). With a little less effort and equipment, you can make a weaker liquid called hydrosol, which is a fragrant condensate water containing water-soluble parts of the needles.

3. STICK IT.

Many legumes, such as garden peas, are thigmotropic, meaning that they respond to objects they touch, growing in coils along or up them. Needle-free Christmas tree branches have lots of twigs, texture, and knobby protrusions for peas and beans to get a grip on. This allows them to grow upwards strongly toward light. Simply stick a small tree branch in the soil next to each new shoot for a free, effective legume-climbing frame. Another advantage of this technique is that it makes grazing animals less likely to munch those tender green shoots, as they tend to avoid getting Christmas tree twigs spiked up their noses.

4. TREECYCLE IT.


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Come January, it’s cold, the festivities are over, work looms, and you’ve got too much on your mind to be thinking about dead Christmas tree horticulture or crafts. Fortunately, a simple solution is at hand: Most counties and municipalities now provide Christmas tree recycling points where you can take your tree for chipping. Some “TreeCycle” points will even exchange your tree for a bag of wood-chip or chip mulch. OK, this probably means that you’ll have to jam that Christmas tree into your car once more, but as long as you don’t have to drive too many miles out of your way, Christmas tree recycling is a quick and easy environmentally-friendly option.

5. DONATE IT.

After you’ve had your Christmas cheer, why shouldn’t fish have some fun? Several communities have programs in place where they’ll take your old Christmas tree, drill a hole in the base, tie a brick to it, and throw it in a lake. When humans create artificial lakes, they tend to be relatively featureless on the bottom for easy dredging. That’s great for us, but it means baby fish have nowhere to escape predators. Christmas trees provide a nice, temporary place for the fish to hide out and explore.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see your Christmas tree mauled by a pride of lions, that’s OK too! Some zoos around the world take Christmas tree donations (but please remove all the tinsel first) and allow the animals to play with them.

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