Thoughtfulness can get lost in the unwrapping

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THIS Christmas it may not be the thought that counts after all, at least not for those doing the unwrapping.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that thinking carefully about a present increased the giver's sense of social connection, which in turn made them happier. But recipients only considered the giver's thoughtfulness when the gift was either a dud or clearly the product of much labour.

Researchers from the universities of Singapore and Chicago found because humans lack direct access to others' thoughts it takes the shock of receiving a gauche sweater before we consider them at all.

''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,'' the authors wrote. ''But if you want to feel closer to the person you are giving gifts to, then put as much thought into your gift as you possibly can and do not be offended when your thoughtfulness is overlooked.''

The best bets to seeing your hard work recognised, the authors said, were gifts focused on experiences rather than material possessions, and highly personalised gifts where the effort involved was obvious.

A recent Oxfam survey found almost 90 per cent of Australians either give away or sell unwanted presents, while a separate poll of Australian women found more than two-thirds would prefer their presents go to impoverished children.

Leigh Stewart, from Oxfam Australia, said ''good will giving'' - where a giver donates to charity on behalf of the recipient - had become an established way of steering people's thoughts back to those less fortunate.

Oxfam have been offering the service since 2005 with goats and chickens remaining the most popular gifts. Soccer balls have fallen off the pace this year, while cow manure and guitar lessons are among the new favourites.

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