Does Gift-Giving Improve Your Mental Health?

When you give someone a gift, there's more to your actions than just wrapping up the present and handing it over. More than likely, the gift recipient means a lot to you — hence why you want to maintain a connection with them. Your generosity sends a message that you see and appreciate them. In fact, you might feel a sense of purpose and meaning when you give, which ultimately makes you feel more fulfilled and happy. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, helping others and giving gifts triggers a variety of "feel good" chemicals in the brain, which can contribute to your overall happiness. These chemicals include serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Together, they enhance your overall sense of well-being and improve your mental health. Giving can also enhance your social connections and promote stronger relationships, and these social bonds bring mental health perks too. Continue reading as we explore the connection between generosity and mental health.

Generosity induces positive emotions

One 2017 study published in Nature Communications examined how generosity affects the brain's reward center, the striatum — a nucleus located near the center of the brain, which plays a critical role in motivation, learning, and decision-making (per Neuroscientist). When people engage in generous behavior, the striatum is activated, leading to feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Similar findings were noted in the book The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson. According to the authors, the relationship between generosity and happiness is bi-directional. Happy people are more likely to behave generously. Likewise, being generous can make you happier. This suggests that generosity is vital for positive mental health and well-being.

When it comes to gift-giving in particular, a 2016 study published in the journal Health Psychology found that spending money on others can positively affect our mental and physical health, including reducing stress and improving our heart health.

Reduced stress and increased social support

If you're feeling isolated, gift-giving might also be just what you need to build a connection with others. For instance, the authors of the aforementioned 2016 study published in the journal Health Psychology suggested that gift-giving provides a means by which one can build and maintain vital social relations. Higher levels of social support are associated with lower levels of cortisol and reduced stress (via Psychology Today). 

Prolonged stress can weaken your immune system, increase the risk of heart disease, cause digestive issues, and negatively impact your mood. However, forming strong social bonds — through activities such as gift-giving — may help inoculate against some of these effects. Indeed, a 2017 study published in the journal Electron Physician found a strong correlation between social support and mental health. Higher levels of social support were associated with better mental health outcomes, including lower levels of depression and anxiety and higher levels of well-being.