When it's the holiday season and you're constantly exchanging gifts both big and small with the people around you, you might have noticed how giving makes you happy. Of course, receiving that cashmere sweater you've been coveting for months or getting a new pair of surround-sound speakers might totally make your yuletide rock. But that feeling doesn't hold a candle to watching your bestie flip over the vintage band t-shirt you got them, or seeing your mom tear up when she opens the framed (and ridiculously darling) picture of the two of you from when you lost your first tooth. In fact, according to two new studies, the happiness you feel when you give someone a gift from the heart can last a lot longer than you might think.
In these new studies, which will be published in the scientific journal Psychological Science, researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management discovered that, when it comes to the joy you experience when you see how happy someone is to receive a gift you got them, it tends to stick around a lot longer than the happiness you feel when you receive a gift from someone. 'Tis the season to be giving, right?
So how did the researchers figure this out? According to a press release from the Association for Psychological Science, one experiment went a little something like this: A group of 96 college students were given $5 every day for five days, and were randomly assigned to either spend the money on themselves or on someone else (i.e. give the money to a friend, donate it, or use it as a tip for your oat milk latte). But the one catch was that the participants had to spend that money on the same thing each day of the experiment. And at the end of each day, the press release explains, the participants had to report on their happiness and general mood.
This is where the interesting and, IMO, heartwarming element of the whole thing begins to surface: As per the Association for Psychological Science's press release, the volunteers who were told to spend the money on themselves showed a steady decline in their happiness over the course of the five days, whereas "happiness did not seem to fade for those who gave their money to someone else."
The researchers then conducted a second experiment online, in which 502 volunteers played a word puzzle game for 10 rounds, as per the research's press release. For each round, the participants won $0.05, which they could either keep or give away to a charity of their choice. After each time they won, the volunteers were asked to report on how happy winning made them feel.
Just like in the first experiment, the press release states, "the self-reported happiness of those who gave their winnings away declined far more slowly" compared to those who kept their prize for themselves.
Per the Association for Psychological Science's press release, Ed O’Brien, a psychology researcher from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in a statement,
If you want to sustain happiness over time, past research tells us that we need to take a break from what we’re currently consuming and experience something new. Our research reveals that the kind of thing may matter more than assumed: Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it.
The press release noted that more research needs to be done on all the factors that might influence the emotional experience of giving and receiving certain gifts or experiences, but overall, the findings look pretty positive for the givers among us.
Of course, this is a lovely thing to consider during the holiday season, especially since the rush to shop and buy presents has been fully on overdrive the last several weeks. But remember, the joy of giving doesn't have to include fancy scarves and expensive candles, and it certainly doesn't have to be limited to the month of December. Even gifting small things at any ol' random time can be really positive and uplifting for both yourself and the people around you, whether it's a few bucks toward a great cause in someone's name, or finally printing a cute baby picture of you and your older brother onto a mug for your parents.