Happiness is a By-Product of Generosity

Today is Christmas Day – a precious holiday celebrated throughout the world by millions of people. The anticipatory excitement about this wonderful day of celebration including family get-togethers, sharing meals and joy with family and friends is often heightened by the curiosity about the gift exchange that is filled with anticipation and wonderment. It may be surprising to learn that though the rewards of being gifted with objects of one’s desire are pleasing, greater happiness has been found to be derived from giving than from receiving gifts.

Most adults are familiar with the satisfaction they feel after having gifted a child with a cherished toy. Children tend to show their delight with sounds and words reflecting their enthusiasm and happiness about receiving the new toy they “always wanted”. Adults’ hearts are also warmed when children or other adults seem enthusiastic about the item they have been gifted.

Interesting research from The University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School found that people who spent more money on “prosocial spending”, gifts for other people and charitable donations were much happier than those who used their money on “personal needs” that included bills or even gifts for themselves. In another study, conducted by the above Universities, one group of participants was gives $5 or $20 and instructed to spend the money by the end of the day on themselves, while a second group was instructed to buy something to give to others. The results of both studies indicated that those who gave to others felt much happier than those who used it for themselves.

Winston S. Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Mother Teresa stated, “It is not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Kahlil Gibran wrote, “I slept and dreamed that life is all joy. I woke up and saw that life is all service.” Anne Frank wrote, “I served and I saw that service is joy.” Lao Tzu concluded, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

It is not puzzling why many people spend hours in search of the “right” gift to please and delight the receiver. It is easy to quickly find a suitable gift but hard to find the unique one that will truly please the receiver. In watching another’s pleasure, one is often enriched as well. It reflects that the giver understands what matters to the receiver and has extended himself/herself to find the most appropriate and pleasing gift. This is a unique form of intimacy that bonds givers and receivers.

To please your loved ones:

  • Know that your attentive and caring gift selections will please the recipient.
  • Express your enthusiasm and pleasure for their kind and wise gift choices. It is affirming and bonding.
  • Relish the intimacy of giving and receiving.
  • State your satisfaction about hosting a holiday event or about being a well-received guest.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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