UBC’s Elizabeth Dunn on how to make the most of Christmas gift giving and how it really is better to give than receive
Christmas. A time of giving. But what exactly should you give? UBC psychology professor and happiness expert Elizabeth Dunn offers some advice on the holiday ritual of gift giving.
What are the psychological benefits of giving – for the giver and the receiver? Is it better to give than to receive?
It’s important to remember that gift giving has benefits for the giver too. My research shows that people are happier when they spend money on others than when they spend money on themselves. So we can get pleasure from the experience of Christmas gift giving long before we receive a gift ourselves.
Do some types of giving offer greater benefits?
We get a bigger emotional boost when we focus our gift giving on people we deeply care about, such as loved ones, family and close friends, rather than people in our extended social network – people we know but aren’t as close to.
Some people struggle to find the right gift. What are some helpful strategies?
Consider buying an experience for some of the people on your list; research shows that people get more happiness from experiential purchases than material things. Instead of buying your husband a new coat, get him tickets to a concert of a band you both like—and then go experience it together.
When does giving promote the most happiness?
There are a variety of factors that matter. We get the biggest “bang for our buck” when we see the impact of our generosity. You’ll get more joy if you deliver a gift to your niece in person instead of shipping it in the mail. If you come dressed as Santa, even better. Or if you’ve given her a basketball – go surprise her by taking her to the playground to shoot some hoops together.
What about those people who say they don’t need anything? How can you still get them something that they’ll like?
Provide them with the opportunity to give to somebody else. Give them a gift card for a good cause where they can see the impact that their donation is making. For example, I like microfinance charity KIVA because you can give someone a gift card and then they can choose to fund a specific individual’s dream—say, a young woman in the developing world who wants to buy a cow to make a difference for her family’s future.
And if you’re still stumped?
Give the gift of time. If you know a single mom who never has an evening to herself as she is making dinner, cleaning the house and putting the kids to bed, offer to help. Pick a night and make dinner for the kids. It’s a gift that doesn’t cost anything and it buys a busy working mom some time for herself.