Science says: Gifting is good for you
It’s common knowledge that receiving and giving gifts makes us feel good. But did you know that gift experiences can affect your health? New research attests to the benefits of gifts—not just as a positive experience for the recipient but also for the giver. According to science, a great gift experience can elicit positive emotions, promote cooperation and social connection, improve physical health, and decrease stress. But does it really? Let’s review the research.
The emotional benefits
A recent Harvard Business School study found that human beings tend to feel happier when giving a gift to someone else than when we buy something for ourselves. Happiness expert and psychology professor at the University of California, Sonja Lyubomirsky, saw similar results when she asked people to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks.
Lyubomirsky’s study found that when people give gifts, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Meaning the warm fuzzy feelings that arise when we receive a gift also develop when we give someone a gift. Our brain then associates that positive experience with social connection.
The social benefits
Several studies have suggested that when you give to others, you will likely be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else. What’s more, when we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them. “Being kind leads you to perceive others more positively,” writes Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, and this “fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”
The research also found that gifts can elicit feelings of gratitude, and gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds. A recent study led by Nathaniel Lambert at Florida State University found that expressing gratitude to a close friend or colleague strengthens our sense of connection to that person. These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others—and research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health.
The health benefits
A wide range of research has linked different forms of giving to better health. Researchers suggest that one reason giving-gifts may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress. In a study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee, people who valued giving [gifts] to others had a direct physiological benefit, such as lower blood pressure, than participants who didn’t.
Neurologists suggest that our brains are wired to derive pleasure from giving. Studies have actually found quantitative evidence that we feel a greater sense of happiness when spending money on others as opposed to when we spend the money on ourselves. The look on the recipient’s face when they open their gift provides a psychological lift to the giver and triggers the release of endorphins into their brain, producing the same euphoric feelings of pleasure and joy we can experience after a tough workout or when we’re falling in love.
Given all of the research conducted, it’s safe to say that gifting should be much more than just a year-end chore. It can help you build stronger social connections, live a longer healthier life, and even jumpstart a cascade of gratitude through your workplace or community. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself benefiting from a great gift experience in more ways than one.
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