By: Justin Hill
I’m sure you’ve heard that gift-giving can be beneficial to you in more ways than one. Perhaps you’ve heard a blanket statement that gift-giving is beneficial, without knowing how it benefits you. Well, I’m going to break down some specifics on how gift giving can benefit you.
While happiness comes and goes, in general you probably want to engage in things that bring about happiness. Well, gift-giving in the form of spending money on another can actually “buy” happiness. In fact, this study shows that spending money on others versus yourself can lead to greater happiness. Not only that, but giving can increase the production of the “happy” chemicals known as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
I think a great explanation of how gift-giving functions in terms of its benefits comes from an NRP interview done with Dr. Ellen J. Langer:
“The advantage of giving a gift is that when you decide to give somebody a gift, typically it means you are going to be thinking about them. You are going to be thinking about what they might like, what you can afford, and that making these decisions is empowering for the gift giver. When you give a gift, it makes you feel generous, it makes you feel in control, it's good for your self-esteem and it's good for the relationship, because you come to know the person even better.”
Finally, this study shows that people (around the world) who spend money on others have an increase in happiness.
Clearly, gift-giving can be a catalyst to lift your spirits.
Gift-giving doesn’t have to be something physical (like money or a gift). It can also come in the form of volunteering your time.
In fact, the benefits of volunteering for older Americans includes living longer as well as lower reports of disability and higher levels of well-being. The health benefits are thought to come from increased physical, social, and mental engagement. And commonsense dictates that if these benefits help older individuals, it more than likely will help those of any age.
For those older individuals, volunteering can reduce the risk of hypertension, according to research from Carnegie Mellon. Another piece of research found that those adults of age great than 50 that volunteered 200 hours or more in the past 12 months were less likely to develop hypertension.
Greater Good discusses a body of research and how various forms of giving can lead to better health (whether that is a physical gift or giving in general). This accounts for sick and elderly individuals as well. Giving can also help decrease stress, which is linked to longevity and improved physical health. (On top of that, the Greater Good article also accounts for giving and its benefits to our happiness – ding!).
While working out is probably the best thing to do for a healthier life, you now know that gift-giving can help attribute to your overall health. Not just that, but gift-giving can also benefit your brain.
When you engage in gift-giving, it sets something in motion. It leads to more gift-giving on a scale of person-to-person. This eventually becomes infectious (kind of like the flu, but in a good way) and spreads throughout the community. In fact, I’d say it’s human nature to want to give more after receiving a gift in whatever form it may come.
Mental Floss mentions a study where participants were more likely to engage in generosity after seeing others be generous. (Again, this same article talks about how volunteers report better overall happiness in their lives).
It’s not just contagious, it’s also a law of influence. Social psychologists deem reciprocity as a social rule that basically lays out that if someone does something for you, you feel you have to do something in return. Dr. Robert Cialdini talks more about the law of reciprocity here. While influence can be construed as something negative, I think it is an important piece of why gift-giving (or giving in general) is contagious, because it is similar to the principle of reciprocity.
My Own Thoughts
Now that I’ve rehashed information that is out there in droves, I want to stand up on my soap box and make a quick few points, state my opinion.
Information is power only if you use it. You can read the links I provided, or do a simple Google search on terms like “giving back and its health benefits.” We all know that gift-giving and giving in general is beneficial, but the important point is what you do with that information.
My advice: take the knowledge of how gift-giving is beneficial and use it. Try it out for yourself, see your own results.
Think about someone you know/care about.
What do they like?
What would be an interesting gift that would make them smile?
Get that and give it to them on a special occasion. Heck, give it to them just because.
Volunteer some of your time to an organization that prides itself on helping the less fortunate.
Think about these three things and how they connect together. First you have happiness. If you do something and it leads to you feeling better that day, month, or year, then you are more likely to do more. When have you seen (or heard) of a person that was on cloud 9 being selfish, angry, hurtful, etc. toward others? If someone is happy, then they are more likely to engage in positive acts, which leads into…
Health. The happier a person is, the more likely they are to engage in healthy activities. Heck, there’s tons of research out there that links happiness to improved health.
Even without the research, just think about it in your own life for a second. When you are happier, are you more or less likely to go be social, to exercise, or to try something new? Only you can answer that, but I think the majority of people would lean to the side of when they are happier, they are more likely to engage in those sorts of things, and therefore, it will indirectly lead to a healthier life.
Finally, a happier, healthier person is more likely to give back, which leads to the person on the receiving end to become happier and thus want to give to another. In other words, it spreads. Granted, this last part is just me putting the puzzle pieces together and just an opinion. But isn’t that how data works? You see the patterns and take the data and connect the dots to what makes sense?
And to me, it’s a common sense, clear path – a win-win situation for all parties involved. When you engage in gift-giving – not just because it is some social standard to follow, but because you care about someone, or you care about a cause and helping others in general – it won’t just benefit you, it will make the world a better place.
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