The holiday season is about bringing family and friends together, whether in-person or remote. But the holidays are also a time for giving. Americans will spend an average of $658 on gifts for family, friends, and coworkers this year. That number is up 4% from last year, and when you include non-gift purchases such as food, greeting cards, decorations, and giving to charities, the number balloons to over $1,000.
So, why are Americans so generous during the holidays? Studies show it’s likely because of how giving makes us feel.
A study by the National Institute of Health finds that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, trust, and creates a “warm glow” effect. Scientists believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing a positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”
“The response is triggered by brain chemistry in the mesolimbic pathway, which recognizes rewarding stimuli,” said Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University.
Giving “doles out several different happiness chemicals,” Post says, “including dopamine and endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.” Studies also show that giving to others makes you happier than if you were to buy for yourself.
Nature Communications reveal that those who choose to spend money on others instead of themselves create more interaction between the parts of the brain associated with altruism and happiness. In their study, researchers from the University of Zurich gave 50 people $100. Half of the people were asked to spend the money on themselves, and half were asked to spend it on someone else. Researchers performed functional MRI scans to measure activity in the brain associated with social behavior, generosity, happiness, and decision-making. Those who spent money on other people reported higher levels of happiness after the experiment had concluded.
Lead author Philippe Tobler, associate professor of neuroeconomics and social neuroscience, noted that it didn’t matter how generous people were. “In our study, the amount spent did not matter,” Tobler told Time Magazine. “Even little things have a beneficial effect—like bringing coffee to an office mate in the morning.”
Giving Tuesday is the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving that promotes charitable giving. It is a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities.
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