Christmas and the surrounding Holiday Season is one of the most popular gift-giving times of the year, and for good reason. Everybody loves receiving gifts, but there are also many people who enjoy giving gifts just as much. It’s a nice way to tell somebody just how much you care about and value them, and we don’t mean monetarily.
When you give a gift to somebody, they’re not the only one benefiting from the exchange. Decades of research has shown that gift-giving, along with giving through volunteering, can be very good for your health and happiness. Which gives all the more reason to show those close to you how much they mean to you this Holiday Season.
We know there’s a bit of a cliché of the giver getting more happiness out of a gift than the receiver, but there’s actually some science behind that. Giving a well thought-out gift may make the gift-giver feel just as happy as the receiver for a number of reasons, specifically because it makes the giver feel more secure in their relationship, and generous. There’s even evidence that giving gifts can boost your self-esteem. By the same token, this action is a symbol of your gratitude toward that person. Having this gratitude alone can make you feel happier, as research shows that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”
Together, these chemicals can give you a euphoric feeling and helps you to bond with the person you give or receive a gift from.
The power of gift-giving to make the giver happy has been seen in numerous studies over the years. A 2006 study gave participants a set of money, which they could either keep for themselves or donate to a charitable foundation. The researchers found that participants gave an average of 40 percent of their endowment to foundations. Additionally, scans of the participants’ brains showed that while receiving the money activated the reward sectors of the brains, giving the money gave an even stronger response. This shows the more altruistic choice was emotionally rewarded with a happier response, which is known as the Helper’s High. When you give a gift, your brain is flooded with oxytocin, a feel-good chemical that triggers a release of serotonin and dopamine (two other feel-good chemicals). Together, these chemicals can give you a euphoric feeling and help you to bond with the person or cause you give or receive a gift from.
You may not necessarily think of the Holiday gifting season as a stress reliever, as shopping and trying to pick out the perfect gift can be stressful at times. But, once you actually give the gift, you’ll feel that stress melt away. First and foremost, happiness actively fights against stress, so the happiness-boosting aspect of gift-giving can help you to avoid the dangers of excessive stress. Also, gift-giving can be an important facet of developing a healthy sense of gratitude, which can help with long-term stress management.
The self-esteem boosting qualities of gift-giving can also fight stress, since low self-esteem can heighten cortisol levels, while high self-esteem is linked with better stress management.
On the chemical level, the oxytocin boost that gift-giving triggers induces “anti-stress-like effects” that can include lowering your blood pressure and even levels of your cortisol (the stress hormone). The self-esteem boosting qualities of gift-giving can also fight stress, since low self-esteem can heighten cortisol levels, while high self-esteem is linked with better stress management. Finally, since gift-giving cultivates strong relationships, you can receive the stress-busting benefits of friendship.
Speaking of the benefits of friendship, gift-giving is an important cornerstone of human relationships, and not just because people like receiving gifts. Some researchers have even theorized that gift-giving played a role in the evolution of humans, with more altruistic humans having a greater chance at surviving and creating the next generation. In a sense, our brains are essentially wired for generosity. The importance of gift-giving to humans makes sense of the often highly ritualistic nature of gift-giving. As one study found, the ritual involved in the giving of the gift actually matters to the effect. So, think about Christmas or birthday parties – these usually incorporate sharing presents.
While relationships shouldn’t be based on presents and what you get from each other, it can be a nice way to enrich your relationships.
These rituals are also an excuse to get together with friends. So, not only is giving gifts a way to boost or strengthen your friendships, it also gives you opportunities to be together with your loved ones. These shared experiences further strengthen your bond and combat isolation. And while relationships shouldn’t be based on presents and what you get from each other, it can be a nice way to enrich your relationships or act as a first step to rebuilding a damaged one.
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Around the Holidays, seeing the faces of your loved ones brighten up after you’ve given them the perfect gifts is almost a gift itself. As we’ve found in this article, you’re not imagining that warm feeling from giving presents to those you care about, it’s real! The research strongly reinforces just how important gift-giving can be for everyone involved, even the giver. If you’re looking for a reason to play Santa Claus this year, now you have one. And don’t worry, the red suit is optional.