Giving: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

‘Tis the season to be jolly, falalalalalalalala. Master time and part with money, falalalalalalalala!’…

 As we zoom towards the end of the year and all its associated festivities, many of us inch slowly but surely closer to – admit it – losing our minds juuuust a little. With all sincerity, though, this time of year can test the most psychologically resilient and conscientious planners among us. As Christmas and a new year approaches the demands of work, the expectations of loved ones, cultural traditions and societal norms culminate in a tightly coordinated act in which we attempt to juggle a few more balls as gracefully as humanly possible. It can all get a bit stressful and as we become so focused on keeping all these seemingly important balls in the air, the ethos of Christmas can get lost.

It is easy to lose sight of what matters most as looming annual deadlines taunt us to work ever harder, and seductive SALE signs lure us toward the malls. Not that I’m against receiving a gift of course! It may pay, though, to remind ourselves that there are many types of giving that don’t require parting with so much of our money (or being wrapped), and may be even more meaningful than receiving underpants, a bar of soap or chocolate covered almonds for Christmas. Giving of our time, our attention, our words, our gestures, our creativity – these are all great ways to show those we care about, and potentially those we don’t even know, some generosity.

The science behind generosity – if you need convincing – indicates that the act of giving benefits more than just the recipient and that this benefit extends beyond gift wrapped objects. Happify put together a great infographic on what the research says, including some tips for giving.

Some of the effects of giving include: lowering stress, inducing the release of endorphins and oxytocin - those lovely feel good neurotransmitters, enhancing a sense of connection with and empathy for others, increasing life satisfaction, improving several markers of psychological and physical health, and even reducing risk of dying through its health giving benefits!  

A 2017 University of Zurich study demonstrated, through the use of fMRI, that both small acts of giving, as well as pledges of future generosity, activated neurobiological changes in the brain and was associated with increases in happiness. This effect was not seen for those who decided to give to themselves instead of to others, if you were wondering.

Generosity, it turns out, is also contagious. A 2013 workplace-based study demonstrated that both the givers, the receivers and observers of generosity were affected positively by the act, with the observers and receivers being inspired to practice their own acts of kindness. This pay-it-forward effect in the receivers was demonstrated by a 2014 study to apply even when the receiver was a complete stranger.

If you are at a loss as to what you could possibly offer, here are a just a few tips and ideas. Consider volunteering for an organization, donating to a charity, giving a membership (e.g. museum), tickets or lessons, a random act of kindness when the opportunity arises, arranging a get together, baking or cooking for a cause, or even visiting the grandparents if you’ve been ‘ghosting’ them! Choose something that you know a loved one will appreciate, do smaller but more regular acts of generosity and be sure to change them up often to keep the experience novel and exciting!

As a side note, although giving to ourselves weren’t shown to light up the brain in the same way that giving to others did, it is important to remember, especially when things get hectic, to give ourselves some kindness.

As I close out this post, I encourage you to think about what generous act you can offer, or intention you can set today at work or at home? How can you ease the stresses of someone around you? Where can a small gesture make a positive difference to a colleague or a loved one?

Blog by Ance Strydom