The Science of Giving

The holiday season is officially upon us! Marked by a spirit of generosity, the holidays are all about giving gifts and spreading joy. There’s a certain rush that comes with watching a loved one open a present you’ve given them, and nothing else feels quite like it. But why exactly does giving feel so good?

To find the answer, we must first look to our basic natures. Humans are pack animals; we depend on each other for survival. This means that on the most fundamental level, it benefits us to take care of others. We give our babies love and affection, food and care because they cannot survive without it. We give our help and cooperation to those surrounding us because working together is crucial to finding food and building shelter. So in part, feeling good after giving helps us survive.

According to Live Science, our brains are actually wired to serve others. Every time we give, our brain rewards us by activating its various pleasure centers. So, that good feeling you get after giving a gift or making a donation can be traced back directly to the firing of neurons. The reward of giving can be so powerful that it seems to have positive impacts not only on people’s mental health, but their physical health as well. Truly altruistic behavior can release endorphins that reduce both stress and pain. For this reason, giving is sometimes referred to as the “miracle drug,” and it can in a way actually heal our wounds.

The most obvious reason why giving feels so good is because we love witnessing our loved ones experience happiness, especially when we are the ones responsible for their pleasure. When the people we are connected with experience positive feelings, so do we. Researchers at Harvard University have upheld that happiness is in fact contagious, and that our well-being is largely determined by the level of happiness in the people around us. Joy can spread through social networks just like diseases do, as people pick up emotions from each other during interactions. Whether you are giving a present during the holidays or expressing love for your loved ones, the happiness produced by giving is a gift in itself. And the coolest part is, it can all be explained by science!

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