To give or to receive, that is the question…

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Gifts form a big part of the holiday season. It may even seem as if such aspect of the holidays is deemed more and more important each year due to the increasing marketing of Christmas products and offers even well before the Halloween season.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love giving and receiving gifts during the holidays. Yet again, I love gifts all year round. But there’s something I have never quite understood about gift giving. Which is: why do I love to give gifts so much and why do I feel so good and happy when doing so?

It might seem as if by giving to others, we end up losing more than what we would gain; we lose energy by looking for a gift, we usually need to travel to a specific location in order to obtain it, and more importantly we lose money. In other words: the receiver gains from our losses.

We then are left with a big enigma as to why it is that we feel so good after the act of giving.

So in order to help us to better understand the nature of this phenomenon, let’s explore some of the reasons as to why this happens.

It has been shown that gift giving affects us on a biological level. For example, this was demonstrated in a study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Mental health where participants were asked to either give or receive. Interestingly, not only did brain regions associated with rewards were activated for those receiving, but also for those who were giving.

But perhaps the most important finding from this research is that it was only the act of giving that managed to activate the brain areas related to social interaction; the subgenual areas. This is why it is not receiving but gift giving that more positively influences us to like each other and our company more.

Moreover, gift giving could also feel so much better than receiving when it is an altruistic gift. That is, when a person gives something to another individual without necessarily expecting to receive something in return. This is an aspect of gift giving that particularly positively contributes to our psychological well-being.

But wait a second, this might then make us think that giving during the holidays wouldn’t contribute to our psychological health or positively affect our relationships; due to holiday gift giving being an exchange of gifts, rather than a one way interaction between giver and receiver. But don’t forget that as discussed earlier, it is the act of giving that makes us feel better than simply receiving. So as long as we’re not only receiving but also giving, we will be experiencing that unique happiness and psychological well-being from the act of giving. It’s simply that altruistic gifts will contribute even more to our psychological well-being than any other form of gift giving such as at the job’s holiday gift exchange party where you got that egg whisker.

It should be noted that gift giving does not have to consist of big, expensive, or material things. In fact these gifts are not the ones who better foster our relationships with others.

Instead, it is the gifts that allow us to create memories within them that aid in improving and fostering happier relationships than their material counter parts.

These gifts do not have to be expensive, it can range from giving a crafts enthusiast a chance to enroll in a fun arts and crafts class, or by taking a friend who enjoys learning and history to the new exposition at a local museum, or perhaps taking a friend who loves trying new foods and desserts to a new local place where they have amazing desserts and you invite them that unique dessert that they are dying to try.

So, with all this being said, it is about the giving and the thought within such giving that will allow us to foster psychological well-being. Thus, Perhaps diamonds will no longer be a girl’s best friend this holiday season. Say hello to memories and life experiences.



About the author:

Alejandra Vergara is a student at Simon Fraser University studying psychology. . Currently, she is volunteering with The British Columbia Psychological Association and is writing for the Piece of Mind blog.


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