Christmas, the season of love is here! Finally again…as every year.

All around the world, millions if not billions of people will gather around the Christmas tree or the fireplace over the next days in order to celebrate with their family and loved ones. Or maybe you are celebrating Chanukka and enjoy a few days of gift-giving…

While many of us who celebrate don’t care too much about the origin of these originally religious festivals, there is one thing we all have in common:

We celebrate to share love and gratitude, which we express by giving gifts.

And while all our morals, preachers and if that is not enough our beloved Hollywood and Instagram stars remind us how this holiday is all about being selfless and caring for our loved ones, there comes one surprising fact…


It actually is the ultimate WIN-WIN-WIN situation to use a newly coined term in organizational development.

The first WIN is YOU.

The second WIN is the person or the people you give the gift to.

The third WIN is the WORLD which is enriched by you and the other person/people being enriched.

How wonderful and romantic

I couldn’t have thought of a more lovely phenomenon in a million years…


Before I will tell you more about that, let’s first look at what GRATITUDE actually means. As I was really curious about that one, I decided to dig into a few given definitions academic literature provided.

One frequently cited definition comes from Emmons (2004, p. 554) who writes that

“gratitude is a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift, whether the gift be a tangible benefit from a specific other or a moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty.”

A more practical and hands-down definition comes from Froh et al. (2011) who define gratitude as

“the appreciation experienced by individuals when somebody does something kind or helpful for them”.

So let’s see, what we have to work with here:

  • it is a response to receiving something
  • it might be tangible or intangible
  • a “sense of thankfulness” or an “appreciation”

If I were to define gratitude, and I take that freedom on my blog right here, I would define gratitude as

“a feeling of being blessed and filled with thankfulness for having received support from other individuals in various kinds of form”.

What is your personal definition of gratitude? Let me know by posting in the comments down here or on my Facebook page 😉 .

Now that we have defined gratitude, let’s see…

Why Gratitude And Giving Is In Our Own Best Interest

My main point of reference for this discussion will be
Anik, L., Aknin, L. B., Norton, M. I., & Dunn, E. W. (2009). Feeling good about giving: The benefits (and costs) of self-interested charitable behavior. Harvard Business School Marketing Unit Working Paper, (10-012).

The reason that I say giving is a selfish act is because studies show that giving boosts levels of happiness in the person who is giving the gift.

In a study by Harbaugh/Mayr/Burghart (2007) participants were asked to decide how a 100 $ bill was to be split between themselves and a local food bank. While participants were making up their minds, neural activity was recorded using fMRI technology.

Giving Makes Us Happier Than Self-Spending

The results showed that those participants that favored donating the entire 100 $ to the food bank displayed strong activation of the ventral striatum, a brain region associated with pleasure and reward.

Another interesting study conducted by Lyubomirsky et al. (2004) showed that participants who were asked to make “random acts of kindness” – free times a week for six weeks. Compared to a control group who didn’t do such acts, the “random givers” showed a significantly higher level of happiness.

We can conclude: giving is inherently rewarding for the giver him- or herself.

But findings take it even one step further:

Spending money on others gave more pleasure than spending money on oneself

Dunn et al. (2008) wanted to find out and randomly approached people in a public setting in the morning for a study. Asking for their baseline happiness levels, they tested four conditions by giving people “free money” – 5 or 20 USD – to spend that day either on themselves on others.

In the evening they were contacted via phone and their levels of happiness measured – the people who had spent money on gifts for others or charity showed higher levels of happiness than those who spent the free money on themselves. Levels of happiness were not influenced by how much was spent. Even 5 USD donations increased happiness.

So if you want to be happy, you know what to do!! Go out now and get some last-minute-gifts or just call up Licht ins Dunkel and do some WIN-WIN-WIN (and buy some happiness feelings…;)).

By the way, you know what science predicts you are going to do, once you donate/give money to charity or another person?

YEP. You guessed it.

You’ll donate and give again…

For example, Isen and Levin (1972) demonstrated that study participants who had met with positive encounters (e.g. received cookies, find a dime left in a payphone) showed higher willingness to help. In the same year Ademan let study participants read positive or negative statements to induce a mood in them.

When the researcher then asked them for a favour in the course of the experiment, positively-framed participants were much more likely to do the favor, some even promised to take part in a second experiment.

To test this phenomenon in a business context, Forgas et al (2008) induced feelings of positive, neutral, negative affect in sales staff by sending an assigned assistant (posing as a customer) to be as pleasant as instructed by the researcher.

Customer Service

Another customer followed after the 1st one had left and asked sales staff to help in searching a (non-existing) item that was supposedly lost. Especially inexperienced sales staff which had previously had a pleasant encounter spent more time helping the 2nd customer or suggesting alternatives.

It is safe to conclude that happiness in people increases their likelihood of giving – whether that be time, energy or monetary gifts. Combining this with the previous findings on giving causing feelings of happiness, Anik et al. (2009) conclude that

“happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop.”

Wow. Fascinating, isn’t it?

On the one hand yes, and on the other hand I suppose this only confirms what we have all known to be true all along.

WIN-WIN-WIN only makes sense…

More than anything we humans are social beings. Hence it can only make sense that we would gain more pleasure from giving to our loved ones than to ourselves – only then can a community and ultimately our society really thrive, as group cohesion, social support and other researched parameters show.

This makes the WIN-WIN then. And if all stick to the rules and spend more money on others then on self, then everybody not only gives but also receives. And there’s no evidence to suggest that receiving has negative effects on happiness (and if so, then we can still refuse to accept it or return it starting on the 27th…).

Taking the meta-perspective the 3rd WIN comes in – WIN – WIN – WIN. If every group, community and tribe would abide by that rule, to quote the Elvis Presley song “If Every Day Was Christmas…”.

[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”Here is my THANK YOU”]What am I thankful for today? Well, for one I thank you for checking out my blog, it honors me to have you as a reader.

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Anik, L., Aknin, L. B., Norton, M. I., & Dunn, E. W. (2009). Feeling good about giving: The benefits (and costs) of self-interested charitable behavior. Harvard Business School Marketing Unit Working Paper, (10-012).
Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2004). The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press.
Forgas, J. P., Dunn, E., & Granland, S. (2008). Are you being served…? An unobtrusive experiment of affective influences on helping in a department store. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38(2), 333-342.
Froh, J. J., Fan, J., Emmons, R. A., Bono, G., Huebner, E. S., & Watkins, P. (2011). Measuring gratitude in youth: assessing the psychometric properties of adult gratitude scales in children and adolescents. Psychological assessment, 23(2), 311.
Harbaugh, W. T., Mayr, U., & Burghart, D. R. (2007). Neural responses to taxation and voluntary giving reveal motives for charitable donations. Science, 316(5831), 1622-1625.
Isen, A. M., & Levin, P. F. (1972). Effect of feeling good on helping: cookies and kindness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 21(3), 384.
Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C., & Sheldon, K. M. (2004). Pursuing sustained happiness through random acts of kindness and counting one’s blessings: Tests of two six-week interventions. Unpublished raw data.