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Consumers found to feel joy longer after giving gifts instead of getting them

Researchers suggest gift-giving as a way to sustain happiness long-term

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The holiday season is full of gift-giving, and while many consumers stress about the perfect gift for everyone on their list, that stress might just be worth it.

According to a new study conducted by researchers from the Association for Psychological Science, humans feel the joyful effects of giving gifts for longer compared to when they receive them.

“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,” said researcher Ed O’Brien. “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 we do it.”

Power of giving

The researchers conducted two experiments to show the power of giving.

In the first experiment, participants that gave to others reaped the personal rewards. One hundred participants were all given $5 and randomly assigned to either spend it on themselves or on someone else for five days.

While all participants began the experiment with similar self-reported happiness levels, those who spent their money on other people never saw their happiness fade over the course of the five days. However, those that only spent their money on themselves reported lower levels of happiness each day over the course of the experiment.

The researchers found similar results after conducting an online experiment. After playing 10 rounds of an online puzzle game, winners were awarded a $0.05 prize, which they could either keep for themselves or donate to a charity of their choice.

Those who donated the money reported feeling joyful for far longer than those that kept the money for themselves.

As for why the experiments played out this way, the researchers couldn’t pinpoint an exact cause. However, they did note that when donating to charity, each individual donation serves as its own unique moment of giving with no points of comparison, whereas when we get paid for something and use the money for ourselves, we often compare each instance to a previous purchase or spending experience. The researchers say that this outcome-centric mindset can dull our joy over the long-term.

“We considered many possibilities, and measured over a dozen of them,” O’Brien said. “None of them could explain our results; there were very few incidental differences between ‘get’ and ‘give’ conditions, and the key difference in happiness remained unchanged when controlling for these other variables in the analyses.”

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