It Turns Out That Giving Gifts Is Scientifically Proven to Make You Happier
I realized my ex was a basketball fan pretty much from the moment we met—during the NBA playoffs. He never played in school or anything, but an innate love of the game permeated every aspect of his life, especially his footwear.
One night in bed, he revealed to me his dream pair of sneakers: the Air Jordan 11, a retro hightop featuring patent leather detailing that rendered them wearable for both casual and formal occasions. He had a pair when he was eight years old, and he wore them until the soles disintegrated. Michael Jordan himself once dubbed them his favorite design of all time.
They were hard to get. Impossible, even. Every December, Nike releases a fresh stock, and hundreds of people all around the country line up in the freezing cold to buy them. Sellers on eBay price them at upwards of $500.
We had barely been dating six months when I decided that I had to get the shoes. It took a lot of legwork and internet savvy, but when I saw the look of pure unadulterated joy on his face that fateful Hanukkah, it was well worth it. I had never seen him happier. And I, in turn, had never felt happier.
It’s my belief that, deep down inside, many of us harbor the desire to make other people happy. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” For me, the action in question is gift giving. I love everything about it, from the moment when someone drops a subtle, unintentional hint about what they want, to the rush you get when you find it in a store (or, in some cases, an obscure website), and finally, to the grand finale, when the person unwraps a box and their face lights up like a menorah. The whole experience feels like a hit of dopamine straight to my brain.
Turns out, giving gifts has been scientifically proven to make you giddy.
“We feel good when we do something nice for someone else, especially if we care about that person,” says psychologist Amy Bucher, Ph.D. “Giving the gift is emotionally uplifting, especially when you know you've accurately picked something the recipient will love. That positive emotion comes from imagining the happiness the gift recipient will feel when they open the gift, and from thinking about our own goodness in providing that happiness. It's energizing to think we've done something in support of our self-identity as a good, loving person.”
Make no mistake, it’s not ALL about me. I get an innate sense of joy from giving gifts that I know someone wants, but would never ask for or expect to get. It’s my explicit way of showing that I’m listening, that I know what’s important to you, and that I care about you enough to waste a good chunk of time figuring it out.
According to Dr. Bucher, in addition to reinforcing your own positive identity, gift giving can also benefit your relationship with the recipient. “A well-chosen gift is also a way to express caring and affection, and can enhance the strength of a relationship,” she says. “You can think of a thoughtful gift as an investment in the relationship. It’s a way to express your caring and to inject positive emotions into your interaction.”
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If you’re a novice gift giver, there are ways to game the system. Try suggesting a shopping trip, or inquire about a gift they’ve always wanted but never received. Then, when you ultimately find it, sit back, relax, and get ready to enjoy utopian-level euphoria. And maybe a stronger relationship.