This most wonderful time of the year really can boost your wellbeing when you tap in to the joy of giving.

Have you ever noticed that giving gifts to your loved ones at Christmas is even more enjoyable than receiving them? Seeing a face light up at the delight of being given something wonderful and thoughtful is enough to fill you both with joy. Aside from relishing another’s happiness, there’s a good reason for this.

Many researchers believe that the act of gift giving taps into a deep, human instinct to take care of one another. Indulging in this primal, generous inclination not only instils a deep sense of love and satisfaction but has actually been shown to be so good for your health it can make you live longer!

Those who volunteer their time (perhaps the greatest gift of all) have lower mortality rates, lower risk of heart disease, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who don’t volunteer, according to research from the Corporation for National and Community Service (US). Giving to others, in any way, also leads to higher rates of happiness in the giver.

‘When you give to others and it lights up the recipient, you both get a release of endorphins. Giving activates a reward centre in our brain that leaves us feeling satisfied and good about ourselves,’ says NLP master coach Rebecca Lockwood.

The helper’s high

‘This feeling, known as a “helper’s high”, is what you experience when you give to others. It’s a natural instinct to help as your brain is wired to help others for survival.’

This endorphin boost leads to other health benefits, such as overall reduced pain and inflammation. But it’s not only your physical body that stands to gain from giving. Your mental state and overall outlook on life is subject to positive change, too.

‘Giving a gift that makes someone happy, or giving your time to them increases empathy, strengthens social bonds and makes you smile – all of which trigger feelings of love and happiness,’ says Rebecca. ‘It can also make you feel as though you have more: more time, more wealth and more in general to give! It can shift your perspective on what you have to feel grateful for, and gratitude comes with its own swathe of health benefits.’

Expressing gratitude

It may seem strange to think that giving can make you feel grateful, but it can. When you give a gift or give your time to someone or to an organisation, you are expressing gratitude for that person or group.

This offers a huge increase in your own health and happiness, particularly if you are giving to someone you have never before really thanked or shown appreciation towards.

This was proven in 2009 when Dr. Martin E P Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, got 411 subjects to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to people who had never been properly thanked for their kindness.

Participants immediately showed an enormous rise in happiness scores (greater than that from any other intervention), with benefits lasting for a month. Giving a gift, especially one accompanied by a meaningful card, can have much the same effect.

And the gifts needn’t be expensive. A thoughtful homemade present or, your time, love and undivided attention – can be even more meaningful. Whatever you give, do so with a sense of deep gratitude and by doing so, you’ll feel the rewards right into the New Year.

Try our gift-giving tips

Step out of yourself

While the idea of ‘if I want this thing then it must be good!’ comes from a kind place, you’re really buying for yourself. Instead, step into the recipient’s shoes.

Think about who they are at this moment (this isn’t always the person you remember them as, or perceive them to be). What do they take joy from now? Is there something they are missing? How could they be happier?

Plan ahead if possible

Christmas comes round every year, so even if you’ve left it to the last minute this year, you could start making a list, or hunting for things they might like for a birthday or next Christmas. It’s never too early to start paying attention when your loved ones talk about their world and their wishes. Make a mental note and save it for later!

Pick up on what matters

Really listen. What does your loved one long for? It might not be material. For example, it could be something to remind them of their childhood. You might want to ask them about their favourite food and drink (smell and taste are our most evocative senses) and create a memory hamper. The fact you really listened and paid attention will be apparent and that is a gift in and of itself.