The holidays are over, and chances are you’ve compared gifts with friends to see who made out the best. Maybe you got that new purse you’ve been wanting or a nice leather wallet. Or maybe you have a new set of comfy pajamas to curl up in this winter.
You probably purchased quite a few gifts as well. After all, it was “the season of giving.” And while it may have felt really good to know that your husband listened to you the myriad times you said you wanted those Coach shoes under the Christmas tree, new research suggests he probably felt even better about giving you exactly what you wanted.
Published in the journal Psychological Science, two recent studies by researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management found that people who gave gifts comparatively avoided “hedonic adaption,” when the happiness people derive from a certain activity decreases every time they experience said activity. For example, when you go to the movies three times a week, it becomes less and less special, and you don’t enjoy yourself quite as much. Or when you eat five chocolate bars in an hour, each piece of chocolate becomes a little less smile-worthy.
But when you give gifts, you experience similar levels of happiness every time — or at least, your happiness declines slowly compared to other joyful events. Obviously, there is no such thing as a selfless deed; even when you’re giving, you’re getting even more. Because what object is any greater than happiness?
Here’s how researchers came to this conclusion, and what it means.
$5 a day
Ninety-six students who participated in one of the experiments were given $5 a day for five days, for a total of $25. When they were randomly assigned to either buy something for themselves or spend the money on someone else, a trend emerged.
At first, the students who used the money on themselves were just about as happy as those who spent it on others through random acts such as slipping $5 into a tip jar or donating $5 to a favorite cause. After all, $5 buys a nice cup of coffee — which most students could use, especially if it’s free.
But over the five days, those who kept the money and spent it on themselves showed diminishing levels of happiness as they reflected on their spending experience and overall mood. Meanwhile, those who were assigned to spend their money on others stayed happy longer — even on the fifth day of giving, their happiness levels were of the same strength as on the first day.
Pennies for your thoughts
Five cents may sound like chump change. But even that much money can affect your happiness, researchers found.
When 502 participants played 10 rounds of an online word puzzle game, they were awarded five cents after winning each round and were given the choice to either donate the funds to a charity or keep it for themselves. Then, they were asked between each round how happy they felt about winning.
You guessed it — those who donated the winnings to charity experienced a far slower decline in happiness than their greedier peers.
It’s good to give
All this research gives scientific proof that it’s always nice to be generous. Sure, your bank account may be slightly less padded at the beginning of 2019 than it was at the end of 2018. But your heart is happier, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what matters?
It’s at least a good excuse to hold in your pocket for when your spouse complains about the credit card bill later this month.