Written by Elise Theriault
Gift-giving is more than just an act of kindness; it’s an act of self-care. Research shows that giving to others can have tremendous positive effects on our health and wellbeing. Not only does it make us feel good, but it can also help us live longer, be more connected to others, and even help our mental and physical health. In this post, we will explore the science of gift-giving and receiving, from the neuroscience of altruism to the different forms that giving may take.
The concept of gift-giving has been studied by anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists. They’ve found that the practice of giving a gift is deeply ingrained in human behavior and culture, and there are several theories on why we do it. One theory is the “helping-reciprocity” hypothesis, which suggests that giving a gift leads to improved relationships. This could be because gifts are seen as a sign of appreciation and love for the recipient.
A gift can also be seen as an exchange of resources, where both parties benefit from it. By giving a gift, you’re showing your care and appreciation for the other person, which can create strong emotional bonds and increase feelings of trust and connection. The “social comparison” hypothesis suggests that we give gifts to boost our own social status. We want to be seen as generous and successful by giving something expensive or unique to our friends or family members. The act of giving a gift also has its roots in our need to fit in with society and be seen as being part of a larger group.
Another popular theory is the “altruistic” hypothesis, which states that giving a gift is an act of selflessness, where we are motivated to give simply because it will make someone else happy. This type of giving is often seen during the holiday season when we want to show our friends and family how much we care about them. Gift-giving has long been seen as a way of expressing love and caring for others, but its effects go even deeper than that.
Studies have shown that when people give gifts, they experience increased levels of happiness and satisfaction. Additionally, research has shown that altruistic acts can lead to an overall feeling of well-being and improved physical health. It seems that the act of giving really does bring its own rewards!
When we think of altruism, our brain releases dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that helps regulate our emotions and reward system. Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” because it is released when we hug or have physical contact with someone. The release of these hormones has a calming effect on us, leading to feelings of happiness and well-being.
In comparison, selfishness releases more cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones are associated with fear, stress and anxiety. So, while selfishness might make us feel powerful in the moment, it is not as beneficial for our long-term emotional health.
The key to reaping the benefits of gifting is to ensure that you are genuinely giving from the heart. When you give with no strings attached and a genuine desire to make someone else happy, then your gift will be that much more powerful. By giving to those in need, you are not only helping them, but also yourself, as this kind of altruistic behavior can lower your blood pressure, reduce cortisol and even help you live longer.
Gift-giving comes in all different shapes and sizes, literally and figuratively! You don’t need to buy anything, especially if you are on a budget, in order to give to someone special this season. Oftentimes, the best gifts are the ones from the heart and not from the store! Here are five different ways you can bypass a physical gift and really show how much you appreciate someone.
1. Acts of Kindness – A great way to show someone you care is to do something kind for them. This could include taking their pet for a walk, offering to cook dinner, doing their chores, or running errands.
2. Handmade gifts – Nothing says “I care” more than something that you created yourself. This can be anything from a handmade card, drawing, or even a framed picture.
3. Gifts of Time – Spending quality time with loved ones is perhaps the most meaningful gift of all. It doesn’t need to be extravagant; a picnic in the park or a game night with friends can be just as meaningful.
4. Donating to a charity – If you are struggling to decide on a physical gift, consider making a donation to a charity in your loved one’s name. This way you can give back and make a difference in someone else’s life.
5. Gifting experiences – Giving experiences can make the most lasting impressions. This could include tickets to a sporting event, concert, or theater production. More budget friendly options include a drive to their favorite park, a movie night in with their favorite film, or listening to an audiobook together.
At the end the day, giving something to someone—whether that is a physical object or simply your time—is a way to communicate to someone without the use of words about how much they genuinely mean to you. It’s not just the “thought that counts,” but also the joy, love, and smiles that abound from the act. It’s the gift of endorphins, dopamine, oxygen from a good laugh and even prolonged and healthy days. Have a great time giving this holiday season and don’t forget to enjoy receiving. Without a receiver, what’s a gift giver to do? Happy Holidays!