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During the Christmas season it is traditional to give gifts to people in your life. This can be family, friends, neighbors, and even people you interact with in your daily life as you get your hair cut or styled, or buy your favorite morning beverage.

This tradition of giving gifts is as old as the Christmas season. But it was borrowed from an even older time. It is rooted in a deep need to create groups of friends and allies.

That is to say, giving gifts is not just good for the receiver but for the giver as well.

What you give

When you give a gift to someone else you give them many things at once.

First, you give them the actual gift. That is a good thing, and hopefully something they can use or that is of value to them later.

Second, you let them know you are thinking of them even when you are apart. This strengthens relationships between people and helps build a sense of community and security.

Third, your gift places a value on the relationship. This value might be monetary, or it might be in thoughtfulness and concern. However, it lets them see a tangible representation of the value you place on that relationship.

What you get

When you give a gift to someone, you definitely get something in return.

First, although you gave them the gift and it cost you whatever amount of time or money it took, you get a powerful hit of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the chemical that is released in your brain that makes you feel better. A lot of things can stimulate this release, including drugs. Your brain craves it because it just feels good, and one of the safest, most certain ways to get an oxytocin boost is by giving a gift to another person.

Second, by boosting your relationships with other people, you help make sure that they are thinking of you even when you are apart. Of course you don’t give gifts in order to get something back, that is not the thought behind gift-giving at Christmas. Building a sense of community and responsibility for one another helps strengthen our society as a whole. Something as simple as a Christmas bonus to the people who pick up your garbage every week will help them feel valued and seen. Among other things, this reduces the chance of trash cans being locked in your driveway.

Third, when you decide to place a value on the relationship, it increases the value the other person places on the relationship. The unescapable fact is that when a person gets a gift they feel a sense of gratitude toward the other person. This changes all future interactions, likely making them warmer and more trusting.

We all want to live in a kinder, safer, and more trusting community. And while this can start with family, it definitely shouldn’t end there. This Christmas season think of all the people in your life whose work impacts your life. Consider how you might lighten their day with a small token of appreciation for the work they do.

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