Choosing presents

In 2016, I would like to continue with one of the aspects of Christmas that I most enjoy. It is the choosing of presents, this makes me feel closer to friends and family when I’m not geographically close to them. It makes me smile when I find a gift they’ll like and I enjoy the warm sense of positive expectation I get when someone is opening a present that I know they’ll love, even if I’m not with them. I enjoy both the planning; thinking of things they might like and happily stumbling across the ideal gift when not expecting it.

Happiness and spending money on others

Research has shown that prosocial spending, that is, spending money on others can increase our levels of happiness and health, and over the Christmas period this activity features high. Thankfully this doesn’t typically happen in such a concentrated form at other times of the year. However I have decided to make a deliberate and conscious effort to spend more time choosing gifts for others and increase the number of gifts I give, not restricting myself to special occasions.

Like everyone I am tied by monetary constraints so I am learning another lesson from Christmas to help me do this without breaking the bank. Think of the price limit on your Secret Santa gift, this activity encourages us to be creative and innovative in the choosing of gifts. Often resulting in unusual presents from independent shops.

Health benefits of spending money

Recent research by Ashley Whillans of the University of British Columbia and her colleagues has shown that spending money on others can actually improve health, at least for those people who have high blood pressure. In this study participants were given $40 and they were told to spend it over a one day period. Half of the participants were told to spend it on themselves whilst the other half was told to spend the money on others. This was repeated in the following two weeks and it was found that blood pressure was lowered in those participants who had spent the money on others compared to those that had spent it on themselves. What an amazing, non-invasive intervention with potentially no side effects. I say potentially, Whillans quiet rightly argues that we should not give to the degree that we put ourselves under financial strain, as this would create stress and negate any potential health benefits. This is why the Secret Santa guidelines are so apt; set an affordable limit and stick to it.

Even if we do not have high blood pressure, we can learn a lot from the positive health benefits of this study. I intend to give it a go.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B. & Norton, M. I. (2014) Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 141-47.

Whillans, A. V., Dunn, E. W., Sandstron, G. M., Dickerson, S. S. & Madden, K. M. (2015). Is spending money on others good for your heart? Journal of Health Psychology

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