Why giving is better than receiving this Christmas

Date: Dec 21, 2011

For many people this festive season the task of choosing gifts that will bring happiness to both the receiver and the giver can be a tough one.

There are retailers, department stores and shopping malls clamouring for the shoppers dollar - advertising special deals, reduced prices and unique products in an attempt to gain part of the annual Christmas spend.

However, recent research from a number of sectors suggests that spending big is not necessarily a wise option over the holiday period - with increased expenses shown as not having a direct link to enjoyment.

A paper published by psychologists from three separate institutions - the University of Virginia, the University of British Columbia and Harvard - has listed a number of points that could go a long way to improving the utility gained through festive purchases and gift giving.

Authored by Elizabeth Dunn, Daniel Gilbert, and Timothy Wilson, the research is called "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right".

The paper builds on previous studies into the link between financial spending and enjoyment which found that - while monetary wealth can be enjoyable to a point, gaining and spending additional dollars tends to lose personal appeal once certain conditions are met.

According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, once basic necessities are taken care of - such as food, water, shelter - the next level of safety and security must be met, followed by the need to belong to a social group.

From there, the desire to achieve targets and claim responsibility is covered, only to be surpassed by the pinnacle of wants that never ceases - self-actualisation.

The researchers point out that almost everything covered by the hierarchy can be bought - destroying the popular truism that "the things that bring happiness simply aren't for sale".

Instead they suggest that money can, in fact, provide happiness - but the satisfaction comes from spending wisely.

The authors state that experiences are remembered better than purchased goods, with many smaller adventures being appreciated more than a couple of large products.

In addition, any spending that benefits others helps to bring an extra warm glow to the purchase, while anticipation adds even more to the overall enjoyment.

The final point made by the researchers in their abstract is that by paying "close attention to the happiness of others" we can help increase our own levels of utility.

To this end, writing a valid will that benefits those we love in the future takes all of these elements into account.

In fact the estate planning process can cover nearly every element listed by the professional researcher - including considering how the action will affect the everyday running of a person's activities.

While property settlement agreements aren't something that most people to expect to see under the tree, Christmas might be the best time of year to begin planning for those you care for.