Giving to others fills you with a wonderful feeling. It’s an opportunity to create a special moment with a loved one, to see the smile on their face while they’re opening the gift you’ve picked out for them.
Though you may not spend much time thinking of the benefits of gifting, we know there are a surprising number of ways in which this act of kindness can positively influence your life. Not only does it strengthen the bond between giver and receiver, but studies have shown that giving has added health benefits. It can help boost your physical health and mental well-being as well as make you feel generous in other aspects of your life.
Here are some simple yet often overlooked outcomes that all come about from the generous act of gifting to others.
Giving strengthens your relationships
One of the greatest benefits of gift giving is strengthening the relationship with the person receiving the gift. You receive an enormous sense of satisfaction when you see the expression on the face of someone you’ve given a gift to. This reaction shows that you have acknowledged the person and appreciate their presence in your life.
“You come to know the person even better,” says Dr. Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University, in an interview with NPR. “If you spend time thinking about the gift, that thinking is good for you in ways that people might not be aware of. You are going to be thinking about what they might like, what you can afford, and making these decisions is empowering for the gift giver.”
“There is the whole act — determining what needs to be given and making sure it fits with the person,” says Devin A. Byrd, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral sciences at South University. “There is an emotional lift when searching for the gift.”
Gift giving is also a way for the giver to reduce guilt. Perhaps there is some distance between you and the gift receiver, which can be remedied through this act of kindness. “It can be a replacement for not being there with the person,” Byrd says.
Being generous boosts your mental health
Just as it feels good to lift someone else’s spirits with a gift, you can receive that same feeling through the act. When you give to others, you are improving your psychological health. “It makes you feel generous and in control,” Langer says. “It lends a sense of power you can carry into other parts of your day.”
With this boost to esteem and self-worth comes a genuinely increased optimistic mood and outlook on life. Positive chemical reactions may lead to an ongoing pattern of improved mental health and well-being.
Giving also activates regions in the brain associated with pleasure. According to Scott Bea, PsyD at Cleveland Clinic, “there is evidence that during gift-giving behaviors humans secrete feel-good chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.” Additionally, in a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that giving stimulates the reward center in the brain — releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.”
Gift giving may help you live longer
One of the many reasons why giving is so good for you is that it acts as a way to de-stress your everyday life. One study led by Michael J. Poulin, Ph.D, assistant professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, showed that gift giving is tied to having a longer life.
If you do something positive, positive psychology says you attract positive.
Dr. Darlene Silvernail
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, followed 846 subjects as they reported the amount of time in the past 12 months they had spent helping, providing for, or gifting to friends, neighbors, or relatives. The researchers found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others were less likely to die than those who had not helped others. “Helping others reduced mortality by buffering the association between stress and mortality,” Poulin says. In short, gifting is an activity that reduces stress — and a reduction in stress is the key to a longer life.
Giving promotes a spirit of generosity
Giving a gift to someone else can set off a chain reaction. Since the feeling of gift giving boosts your mood, you may want to keep this spirit alive in other ways, such as sponsoring a good cause. Or, perhaps the person you’re gifting to now may be more willing to gift to others. “If you do something positive, positive psychology says you attract positive,” says Dr. Darlene Silvernail, a psychology professor at South University.
In short, your simple act of giving can serve as a positive example that others can model, promoting their own sense of self-worth and reducing their own stress. Keep paying it forward and giving gifts, and you may just make the world a better place.