By Jiji Lee

Meaningful Gifts for the Holidays (or Any Occasion)


Tips for selecting meaningful gifts for everyone on your list.

Giving meaningful gifts can be difficult. 

If you’re anything like me, you have every intention of putting in the time and effort to pick out a meaningful gift, only to wait until the last minute and end up sheepishly giving yet another gift card.

But as someone who’s been on the receiving end of so many thoughtful gifts, I decided I wanted to become the type of person who could put thought and care into a gift. And after studying the gift-buying habits of my thoughtful friends and family members, I learned that a meaningful gift isn’t about spending loads of money or devoting hours to DIY crafts.

It’s all about paying attention. 

Below, we’ve shared a list of meaningful gift ideas for different occasions and life events, just in time for the holiday season. If you follow these tips, you won’t have to worry about making a last minute purchase on a gift card again!

(See all of our gift guides here to find a gift for everyone on your list!)

The key to meaningful gifts: Paying attention

When it comes to thoughtful gifts, it’s all about considering the recipient’s needs, interests, and current life situation.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

What are the recipient’s favorite hobbies and interests? What are their favorite books or movies? Do they have a genre that they’re obsessed with? 

My husband and I are big fans of horror movies, and one of the best gifts we received was a subscription to a horror movie streaming service. It’s something that we never would’ve thought of getting for ourselves, and it was such a treat to receive it. Memberships and subscriptions also make great last-minute gifts.

Is the recipient the type of person who likes to take care of themselves? Or is self-care not even in their vocabulary? 

Have they expressed any interest in taking up a new class? Or have they waxed nostalgic about a favorite childhood activity or toy?

These are all things to consider when choosing a gift. 

In the past, I’d try to make a mental note of a person’s interests, but then I’d forget by the time gift giving season rolled around. But here’s what I learned from people who give thoughtful gifts: start jotting down what people like. Now I use the Notes app on my phone to jot down whenever people mention a favorite movie or food. So come Christmas or birthday time, I already have a running list of their favorite things. 

Meaningful gift ideas

Okay, so now you have a list of things that your recipient might like and enjoy. Here are some gift ideas for different occasions. 

Friend or co-worker relocating to a new city 

One time, I had a manager who was moving to a new city, and I had no idea what to get him, other than gifting him a run-of-the-mill coffee mug. So I turned to my sister-in-law for advice. My sister-in-law is the most thoughtful and creative gift-giver. Not only does she remember your interests and hobbies, but she’ll customize the gift based on your needs and living situation. 

Here are some ideas based on what I’ve learned from my sister-in-law’s thoughtful gifts.

Beautiful set of blank cards. So your friend can write to people whenever they’re feeling home sick. This set of blank cards with pineapple designs would make letter writing extra fun and special. Bonus: the pineapple is a symbol of friendship and hospitality!

Letters to My Future Self. Write letters to your future self and then read them at a later date. It's like having your own time capsule, where you get to record your hopes, dreams, observations, and advice. It's a fun and meaningful gift that would make anyone feel appreciative of their present and future lives. 

Time Out Magazine subscription. People appreciate receiving something in the mail that isn’t a bill or a catalog. And a Time Out city guide is a great way for your friend to learn about their new city, while also getting them excited about checking the mail. 

Museum membership. Since your recipient will probably have their hands full with packing and moving, you’ll want to go with a gift that doesn’t take up any luggage space. A museum membership will allow your friend to experience arts and culture in their new city, no extra luggage required!

Gift certificate to a restaurant. After all that moving and unpacking, the last thing your friend wants to do is whip up a meal at the end of the day. Do a little research and snag a gift certificate to a local restaurant. Your friend will love the chance to dine out, as well as the opportunity to explore their new neighborhood. 

New life event

Did your recipient recently become engaged, have a baby, or accept a new job? 

Here are some gift ideas to help them celebrate this exciting new time. 

Reflection cards. This card deck would make the perfect game at a team retreat or an exercise on a self-care Sunday. The cards ask insightful questions like, “What made you smile today?” and “What are you holding onto that you need to let go of?” This would be a unique gift idea for co-workers or a friend celebrating a milestone birthday or transitioning into a new chapter of life.

Framed photo. We capture every moment on our phones these days, but we rarely take the time to print our photos. When my husband and I shared a photo of our engagement online, a family member printed the photo and had it framed for us. We were so touched by this thoughtful gesture that now we try to do the same for our friends. This would make the perfect gift for new parents. They will literally have their hands full with a newborn and would appreciate a memento of their bundle of joy. 

Food delivery. I’m a big fan of food gifts. Whether it’s a box of cookies or homemade chili or a snack tower from Harry and David, a gift in food form is always welcomed. This would be a thoughtful gift for new parents or someone who’s recently started a new job. 

For your partner

It can be hard trying to find the perfect present for your partner, especially if you’ve been with them for ages and feel like you've exhausted all unique gift ideas.

If you’ve been with your partner for a while, you can use your time together as an advantage. It’s all about celebrating the time you’ve already had together, as well as creating opportunities for new memories.

Scented candle in a cute package. Smell is such a strong sense, and there’s nothing like a scented candle to transport you back to your favorite memories.  Maybe you and your partner love going to the beach or hiking in the woods. You can find a scented candle with a beach or woodsy fragrance, which will remind you of your favorite place every time you light it. 

Memento of your travels. Maybe you can find a tchotchke that reminds you of your travels. Like a mini lighthouse that reminds you of your coastal adventures hat you can keep on your bookshelf. Or a customized pillow with a vacation photo. Or you can frame a restaurant menu or receipt from a memorable visit. 

Cooking class for two. You’ll feel like high school sweethearts as you sit by side and try to pay attention in class. Plus, you’ll get to learn new recipes and create new memories together!

For your boss or coworker

It can be a challenge trying to find a gift for someone in your office. You want it to be office-appropriate, but also thoughtful. Here are some gift ideas that go beyond the typical coffee mug or pen.

Gift card. Okay, hear me out. I actually think gift cards can be really thoughtful —that is, if the person actually needs it. What about a gift card to their local coffee shop or bakery? That way, your recipient can treat themselves and they’ll be touched you made an effort to learn about their favorite things. You can also do a gift card to a movie theater so that they can have an escape and not think about work for a few hours. Tailor the gift card to the recipient’s interests and this gift will go from boring to special.  

Korean sheet masks in a soothing scent. You don’t have to spend a ton to do self-care these days. Make a gift box with Korean sheet masks, a pretty box of teas, a nice candle, and your coworker will feel like they’ve been treated to a spa day. 

A succulent. A pretty plant would freshen up any office space and brighten your coworker’s day. This would be a nice gift to give for a promotion, a lateral move, or just a job well done. 

Decorative journal. If you want to make a colleague feel extra special, gift them with a beautifully designed journal. You can encourage them to pursue their creative interests with this Wake Up Your Imagination journal.  Or add some color to their day with this Rhodia notebook. Make sure to include a note describing your gratitude for their hard work.

You don’t have to stress yourself out trying to find a meaningful or unique gift. You can use these gift ideas or build off of them to create your own. At the end of the day, it’s not about how special or unique your gift is. The recipient will be flattered and honored to know that you were thinking of them.