We all know how great the feeling of receiving a gift can be, but think about how we feel when you’re the one giving the gift? We may feel joy seeing the recipient’s reaction or feel loved when the recipient expresses gratitude. We sometimes feel a vague satisfaction knowing that we’ve done something good. The list goes on. Not only are all these feelings great, but there are scientifically-proven benefits to gift giving. It turns out that gift giving is an important part of human psychology. From improving mental health to increasing happiness and lifespan, acts of kindness and gift giving are important for many different reasons.
1. The Cure is Kindness
Gift giving is a form of genuine kindness. We give a gift because we believe it is something the recipient needs, wants, or would like. By thinking of what another person might enjoy receiving, we’re practicing empathy, one of the key EI competencies. We’re considering their point of view and taking an active interest in them, which is a kind thing to do. When this act is recognized, our brains feel a kind of reward for doing something nice for someone else. It sends signals to the rest of the body that result in some interesting health benefits.
Some of the physiological benefits of kindness, according to data from randomactsofkindness.org, are increases in oxytocin production, energy, lifespan, serotonin production, and decreases in pain and blood pressure. This sounds almost too good to be true, but it’s all backed by research studies that point to the same conclusion; kindness leads to good things for both parties.
If that wasn’t enough, also think about how strong our bonds with others will become through gift giving and kindness. Gift giving doesn’t have to be expensive or a grand gesture. Packing a favorite snack for a coworker who often doesn’t have time for lunch, knitting an extra scarf in the babysitter’s favorite color, or baking a tray of cookies for the kiddo to bring to school are all small acts of kindness that add up over the course of a year or a lifetime. Think about some of those opportunities for kindness you can try incorporating into your week; the benefits could astound you!
2. The Mental Health Benefits of Kindness
Think about all the times we’ve complained about stress, anxiety, and a lack of happiness in our lives. We’ve all felt those low and unpleasant emotions and wondered what we can do to bring ourselves up. If adding acts of kindness into our daily routines can help all these things, it could be a great first step towards making a real change in our lives. But what does science say?
From that same Random Acts of Kindness article, we see not only the physiological benefits of acts of kindness like gift giving, but the psychological ones as well. Increases in happiness and pleasure along with decreases in stress, anxiety, and depression are all shown in people who engage in acts of kindness. The one study that really sticks out comes from the University of British Columbia.
In this study, highly anxious individuals started incorporating 6 acts of kindness into their week. One month in, the findings spoke for themselves. Increases in positive moods, relationship satisfaction, and decreases in social avoidance from socially anxious individuals. Time and time again I’ve had parents come to me exasperated by their child’s anxiety and feeling helpless to do anything about it. A quick Google search will tell you how many people are themselves anxious about childhood anxiety. It’s a real problem for parents and it’s on the rise, not the decline.
What we do with these findings is up to us. The way one family implements acts of kindness into their life is going to look very different than how another family goes about it, and that’s okay. It should be something that feels natural to us and gives us the satisfaction that we’re out there making a positive difference in the world. This is one of the best things we can do for our young ones, especially for addressing this growing issue of childhood anxiety.
3. Letting Gifts into Our Lives
We may not think of gift giving as a particularly complex human behavior, but this New York Times article elucidates the psychological role and impact of giving gifts.
“(Gift giving) is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends. Indeed, psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift.“
Their findings suggest that not only is gifting beneficial, but it’s an intrinsic human tendency that serves a distinct psychological and evolutionary purpose. Interestingly, they also found some gender differences in gift giving, even at a young age, suggesting societal tendencies and attitudes towards gift giving are deeply ingrained.
“Gender differences in gift giving seem to emerge early in life. Researchers at Loyola University Chicago studied 3- and 4-year-olds at a day-care center, all of whom had attended the same birthday party. The girls typically went shopping with their mothers and helped select and wrap the gift. Boys, meanwhile, were often unaware of what the gift was.”
I’m sure many of us know people who resist receiving gifts. We tell them we want to send them a token of our thanks for doing something nice for us, but they reject our offer and shut us down! I understand why they do this. Their intentions are noble; they are trying to be humble. They don’t want us going out of our way to do something nice for them, no matter how much we may want to. The problem is that they’re denying us the pleasure of thinking of them and empathizing with them as I’ve already discussed.
If you’re the kind of person who shies away from gift giving and tells people not to get you anything, think of allowing someone to get you a gift as a gift to them in a roundabout way. Ellen J. Langer, a Harvard psychology professor, says “If I don’t let you give me a gift, then I’m not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities…”
“You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving.”
4. Kindness Towards Self is Kindness Towards All
One surprising find from Harvard Health is the role of self-kindness in gift giving. One of the biggest barriers to acts of kindness towards others is the detriment of self-criticism or self-image. People who don’t think they are worth receiving a gift often struggle with accepting gifts, giving gifts, and the concept of gifting in general.
From the Harvard Health article, “A recent study reported on how people felt after performing or observing kind acts every day for seven days. Participants were randomly assigned to carry out at least one more kind act than usual for someone close to them, an acquaintance or stranger, or themselves, or to try to actively observe kind acts. Happiness was measured before and after the seven days of kindness. The researchers found that being kind to ourselves or to anyone else—yes, even a stranger—or actively observing kindness around us boosted happiness.”
These findings continue to suggest that acts of kindness can have a huge impact on our lives and the lives of people around us. Since self-kindness was identified as one of the possible barriers to expressing kindness to others, it may interest you to know that I’ve written extensively on self-kindness, self-empathy, and the power of self-forgiveness. By incorporating simple, mindful techniques into your routines, and forgiving yourself when adversity takes its toll, you can overcome just about anything.
If some of this sounds a little daunting to you, then the article had this to say, “If random acts of kindness don’t come easily to you, try this challenge: do one small, kind thing each day for someone. Then pay attention to the impact on you. Does it become easier the more you do it? Do you start to notice and act on more opportunities to be kind in your world? Do you start to feel lighter? Kinder?”
I think that’s a great place to start and a great piece of advice for those who struggle to find ways to be kind.
5. Gifts for the Young Ones
The last point I’m going to talk about today is the importance of giving gifts to young kids. We all know how much kids love to receive gifts, but we should also be aware of the impact of gift giving on a child’s development. We don’t want to spoil our children or let them get addicted to rampant consumerism. By teaching our children about proper gifting and what kinds of gifts inspire us rather than consume us, our children will learn a valuable lesson about a very tricky, nuanced social practice that can even be a struggle for adults.
Doing Good Together recommends a few different things. Giving mindfully, incorporating your children into the gift giving process, giving kindness, giving charitable gifts, giving experiences, and giving handmade gifts are all examples of how children can receive and be a part of the gift giving process in a way that will further their development. Think of gift giving as a lesson in empathy. When we’re out shopping for an upcoming birthday party, we should ask our kids what they think their friend might want.
This kind of question invites children to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and to connect with someone they’re close to, both foundational ideas of empathy. Giving them a chance to reflect on the experience should really bring it home. After the party, ask them: How did the gift giving make them feel? How do they think their friend felt? Acts of kindness like this bring up all sorts of associated emotions and provide an awesome everyday lesson.
Recently, I was in a situation where I had to get someone a gift and I immediately thought of giving them one of my books. My dear friend Heather and her 14-month-old daughter Maisie loved what they got. Sadly, Maisie had been under the weather, but Heather had this to say about it,
“Your gift box is so adorable and Maisie loves it! It arrived on Saturday when she still wasn’t feeling well and it brightened her day. The books are just so fun and I love how it is interactive. Teaching emotions is so important and this is such a fun, great tool to do that! I was shocked that she knew right away to put the bracelet on her wrist! It just amazes me how intuitive kids are.”
I could not be happier with that review and her experience really speaks to what we’ve heard from other families who’ve enjoyed our books and toys. If you’re in a situation where you’re looking for a great gift to give to an expecting family or a family with a newborn, then our Hoppy Poppie books are great gift options for any future occasion.
Baby showers, bridal registries, first birthdays, etc. are all great occasions to gift someone a Hoppy Poppie product. Everything is designed to teach emotional intelligence to young ones in a fun, educational way. This balance of educational merit and entertainment makes us one of the best gifts for a developing child. Just think about how much developmental value we’ve already covered in this article and in the rest of my blog.