Mental health: Giving presents really makes you happier than receiving them

New mental health research says giving presents really does make you happier than getting them. Wrap up (gifts) this winter

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When it comes to happiness and mental health, it's always said to be better to give than to receive. Although that never stops us feeling great when receiving a present from a friend or loved one, psychology has weighed in and demonstrated how the old saying could actually be true: gift-givers really are happier than receivers. Time to break out some fitness gifts for your favourite people. 

This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, looked at happiness levels of the study participants when they were given $5 every day and asked to spend it on themselves, or spend it on someone else. 

The researchers found happiness did not decline, or declined much slower, if the participants gave gifts to others versus repeatedly receiving those same gifts themselves.

"If you want to sustain happiness over time, past research tells us that we need to take a break from what we’re currently consuming and experience something new," researcher Ed O'Brien tells the Association for Psychological Science

"Our research reveals that the kind of thing may matter more than assumed: Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it.”


(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the theories behind why this might be is that when you're doing things for yourself, you tend to focus on the outcome: for example, going to work to get paid. If you're doing things for others, you focus on the process, which increases our sensitivity to the experience. 

This is actually a common trait in mindfulness meditation practices. Mindfulness often asks the participant to forget about what you're going to get out of the practice, and just be present in the moment, enjoying the task at hand. 

Another theory the researchers suggest is that giving to others helps us maintain our social reputations. Being seen as "a giver" could be reinforcing our sense of community and social connection with other people, which is why we find it so effective for nurturing happiness. 

Give it a try! Focus on giving rather than receiving this year, and hopefully the resulting happiness will end 2020 on a good note. Consider this information our gift to you. 

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Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.