If the thought of Valentine’s Day shopping has you feeling stressed out, take heart — no pun intended. There may be a huge upside to sending that bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates that you don’t even realize. Anyone who has received a gift understands how wonderful it can make you feel. Knowing someone was not just thinking about you, but also took the time to select something especially for you, well that just makes you feel good. But wait, it gets better. What if that little gift also delivered some extra, life-enhancing qualities for the giver as well? It’s true. Whenever we give a gift, regardless of the size or value, a powerful blast of neurotransmitters known as endorphins are released into the brain. Yep, the same ones that create the so-called “runner’s high” following exercise, or the euphoric feeling we get when we’re falling in love. Endorphins give us a sense of well-being and joy. Trudy Scott, a food mood expert and author of “The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution,” points out that even a simple act of generosity can trigger a rise in endorphins and have a positive effect on our health and the way we feel.
“If you have sufficient endorphins, you’ll feel pleasure and joy, similar to the feeling you get when someone gives you a big hug,” says Scott. Scott explains that these positive feelings can also prevent us from turning to other things like sugary or fatty foods in search of comfort.
It’s in Our Wiring
One study conducted by psychologists at UC-Santa Barbara found that even in situations where future interaction with the same person was highly unlikely, and when no one would ever know what decision they made, subjects were willing to accept a cost to themselves for the benefit of someone else. In other words, even when they were unlikely to gain anything in return for their generosity people were willing to give anyway.
What makes us want to give? It could be that our brains are wired to do so. Another study looking at the difference between how our brains react to giving and receiving found that when people were given a monetary gift, the parts of their brain that register a positive experience were activated. Not really a big surprise. However, what was surprising was that when given the option, all of the subjects chose to give away an average of 40% of their gift. Additionally, when they did so activity in the same reward section of the brain increased even more than when they initially received the money. Turns out maybe what your mom used to tell you is true, it is better to give than to receive. At least your brain thinks so.
It isn’t just the moment when we deliver our gift to the intended receiver that gets our brain going. Dr. Fran Walfish, a leading psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child,” notes that the psychological benefits for the gifter can begin as soon as he or she begins thinking about what they will give.
“I think the benefit begins in the thought process of what that person would want and enjoy. There’s pleasure. The endorphins start to “cook” in the thinking process. The giving is a great feeling and their reaction is the icing on the cake.”
With all the positive side effects to gifting, could it be that the cure to your Valentine’s Day angst is right in front of you? So as you head out in search of the perfect gift to show your special valentine how much they are loved and treasured, you may just find the experience brings its own reward.