The Power of Giving

Giving and receiving affects the brain in different ways


Lanie Sanders

Science shows that giving and receiving creates positive feelings in the brain. Positive effects are both physical and mental.

The little boy’s eyes light up with pure joy as his older sister hands him his gift. What he doesn’t realize is how happy she is seeing his smile as he shakes the box frantically. What he will never see is her smile matching his as she picks the toy out and carefully wrapping it with as much joy as he possesses when he opens it. As he pries the box open, his smile somehow grows wider. He jumps up and throws his arms around his sister, making all of her efforts towards the gift totally worth it.

As the holiday season rapidly approaches, so does the desire to give and receive gifts. Attached to the season of giving is the lingering pressure to give the perfect present. Everyone knows the feeling of disappointment and dread that comes with receiving something they really don’t want, followed up with the fake, uncomfortable smile you’re forced to flash so they don’t hurt the giver’s feelings. There is rarely ever anyone who is comfortable enough to tell someone they don’t like their gift, because the truth is, deep down, we know they spent money and time to give you this present. Whether it was thought out or not, no one is ready for that confrontation. It’s fair to say we’ve all been on both sides. 

However, giving and receiving gifts makes people feel really, really good. Seeing someone’s face light up as they rip away wrapping paper or frantically yank tissue paper out of a bag is a feeling like no other, especially when they get even more excited after seeing what’s inside. 

With that being said, Junior Zoey Hulbert explains why she prefers giving over receiving. 

“It’s great and you get to see how excited someone gets,” Hulbert said. “Then you just know that you made their day if it’s a quality gift.”

Senior Sam Cole also favors giving gifts versus receiving them, because as he explains, he’s not good at it. 

“Giving gifts intimates a sign of generosity and overall augments one’s character,” Cole said. “It is much more difficult to give than to receive, but the spiritual and psychological benefits are manifold.”

Although most people claim they prefer giving gifts, there is an honorable amount of people who also love receiving gifts. But, most people who prefer getting versus giving are children. 

Psychology teacher Stacey Dennigmann explained a sort of turning point in people’s lives that they reach, which is different for everyone, where they begin to prefer giving over receiving.

“When it comes to giving and receiving we reach a sort of milestone,” Dennigmann said. “Which is different for everyone, but instead of a gift, it’s like an experience.”

Hulbert explained what she thinks happens when someone receives a gift.

“I think that whenever someone receives gifts, they feel loved and wanted,” Hulbert said. “And they know that somebody was thinking about them and went through the work to provide the gift.”

Cole described it much differently, like giving gifts around the holidays is, for some, designed for hiding apathy. 

“Perhaps people try to make up for their impenitence during the holiday season by an artificial charity of giving,” Cole said. “We give to make it seem like we care, but more often than not, there is little effort involved in giving a gift.”

Dennigmann described how people feel when they give gifts. 

“When you give a gift, you do something good,” Dennigmann said. “And because you do something good, you feel good.” 

Dennigmann went on to explain a sort of unspoken rule that is present in the psychology world. 

“There’s a whole phenomenon in psychology about that ‘do good, feel good’ empathy that when you do things that are intrinsically rewarding,” Dennigmann said. “It just kind of changes your outlook on everything and so then you look at everything differently.”

Hulbert put into words how she feels when she gives gifts and why it’s special to her.

“I’m always excited to give gifts,” Hulbert said. “I love to think about my friends or people in my life when I see things that remind me of them.”

Dennigmann added that she also likes receiving gifts and it makes her feel loved.

“I like that someone actually took the time to think of me,” Dennigmann said. “And how they try and make it personal to me and match my personality or something they know I’d enjoy.”

As the giving season draws closer than ever, gifts are on the mind of arguably everyone. Whether you’re more of a giver or getter, the presence of presents is all around us. 

I think that whenever someone receives gifts, they feel loved and wanted. And they know that somebody was thinking about them and went through the work to provide the gift.

— Zoey Hulbert