The Best Gift is to Give
As I was checking out of a hotel a few days ago, the receptionist asked me to wait a minute because she couldn’t find the charge for my parking. When she realized they had forgotten to charge me she said, “You know what? It’s my birthday, so I’m going to give you the parking for free!” Wasn’t that nice? It sure was a great start to my day!
It reminded me of the Spanish birthday tradition of giving to others. Children take bags of candy to school on their birthdays to share with their friends. Adults invite friends and family out to dinner. It struck me as a bit odd when I first moved to Madrid, because I was used to others giving me things on my birthday. But the truth is, giving to others is a great birthday gift. Studies consistently support the idea that “it is better to give than to receive.” Giving makes us happy!
In one study, researchers gave students at the University of British Columbia an envelope with either $5 or $20. Half of the students were instructed to spend the money on themselves and the other half were instructed to spend the money on someone else. The students who gifted the money were happier and the results were the same for both amounts of money. In a much larger study of people from 136 countries, researchers also discovered a relationship between spending money on others and happiness. The effect was found even in very poor countries. So it seems that people everywhere experience emotional benefits from giving to others.
A few weeks ago one of my friends spent her entire Saturday making sandwiches and distributing them to people at a shelter in Washington D.C. They were celebrating her friend’s birthday. She had asked a group of people to bring sandwich makings to her home where they assembled 200 lunches and then took them to the shelter to hand out. What a great way to celebrate her birthday. Think of how many people she made happy!