Christmas is coming and our thoughts are turned to gifts. Not everyone enjoys traipsing round crowded shops or spending hours online, but once you get started, you might be pleasantly surprised.
That’s because gifts are really about relationships. And giving is a ritual that could improve psychological health, by benefiting the giver more than the receiver. So what happens to us when we give?
Exchanging gifts reinforces social connections. This can release oxytocin in the body, a powerful hormone related to well-being sometimes referred to as the “bonding hormone”. From expressing affection or gratitude to reducing feelings of guilt, gifts are a way to communicate.
One study involved measuring brain activity in players of a computer game. On winning a cash prize, participants had the option to donate it to charity. People that gave their prize away experienced higher levels of activity in the reward centres of their brain than when they won it.
Other research shows that spending money on others makes you happier than spending it on yourself. And you don’t have to break the bank − spending just a few pounds on others has a positive impact on your happiness.
However, buy the wrong gift for someone and both sides can feel frustrated. One UK survey found that half the people questioned had lied to a loved one about liking a gift. So how can you get it right?
When it comes to making a decision, people can be classified in two ways: satisficers, who make a decision once their criteria are met; and maximizers, who are perfectionists that explore every possible option.
With Christmas shopping, satisficers will choose a gift that is a good fit for their friend while maximizers want to pick the perfect present. But the difference in impact on the receiver is small. So relax, there’s no need to embark on the never-ending quest.
And if you’re stuck for ideas, just ask. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that people are better off choosing gifts that their loved ones have actually asked for. Good news for all you last minute shoppers out there.
Hopefully we’ll all get what we want for Christmas. But just to make sure, start dropping hints now.
Do you love choosing gifts or do you find it a minefield?
Tell us what you’d like for Christmas.
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