Joy, happiness, peace, whatever. We all know the holidays are really about presents. (Don’t worry, we’re mostly kidding.) But it’s undeniable that giving is a central part of December celebrations— here in the U.S., at least. So we had to ask ourselves: Does it make us happier to give or receive?

Give It Up — Why It Matters

Research on charitable giving found happiness and giving create one big circle— happy people donate more money, and the more money people donate, the happier they are. Studies also suggest spending money on others rather than ourselves ups our bliss levels— that’s right, hand the awesome gifts over to a pal Spending money on others promotes happiness. Dunn, E.W., Aknin, L.B., Norton, M.I. Department of Psychology, 2136 West Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada. Science, 2008 Mar 21;319(5870):1687-8.. And while even buying for strangers makes us a bit happier, the closer we are to the recipient, the greater the happiness payoff It's the recipient that counts: spending money on strong social ties leads to greater happiness than spending on weak social ties. Aknin, L.B., Sandstrom, G.M., Dunn, E.W., et al. Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. PLoS One, 2011 Feb 10;6(2):e17018..

Generosity may become even more important as we age, since providing social support improves older adults' well-being Is it better to give or to receive? Social support and the well-being of older adults. Thomas, P.A. Department of Sociology, Duke University, Box 90088, Durham, NC. The Journals of Gerentology, 2010 May;65B(3):351-7. Epub 2009 Dec 22.. And parents will be glad to know the more they give kids today (primarily gifts of time, but also shelling out the cash for over-the-top cell phone bills), the more supportive kids are likely to be when their parents age Reciprocity in parent-child relations over the adult life course. Silverstein, M., Conroy, S.J., Wang, H., et al. University of Southern California, Andrus Gerontology Center, Los Angeles, CA. The Journals of Gerentology, 2002 Jan;57(1):S3-13..

Get Some — The Answer/Debate

But The Giving Tree isn’t always a perfect role model for us humans. One study found providing financial support to those outside our families was associated with increased incidence of depression later in life. (Surprise! Helping out freeloaders can be a downer.) A similar study found altruistic behavior was associated with a slightly reduced risk of anxiety but a significantly higher risk of depression The role of altruistic behavior in generalized anxiety disorder and major depression among adults in the United States. Fujiwara, T. Harvard School of Public Health, United States. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2007 Aug;101(1-3):219-25. Epub 2007 Jan 11.. Plus, for older folks, receiving social support from a spouse or sibling is just as meaningful as giving it It's the recipient that counts: spending money on strong social ties leads to greater happiness than spending on weak social ties. Aknin, L.B., Sandstrom, G.M., Dunn, E.W., et al. Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. PLoS One, 2011 Feb 10;6(2):e17018..

The value of giving and receiving may also depend on gender. One study found that within relationships, men are healthier when they receive emotional support, while giving emotional support makes women healthier When it is better to give than to receive: long-term health effects of perceived reciprocity in support exchange.Väänänen, A., Buunk, B.P., Kivimäki, M., et al. Department of Psychology, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2005 Aug;89(2):176-93.. (Note to boyfriends: This research is no excuse for mooching.)

And whether giving or receiving, a wad of cash doesn’t seem like the way to go. A study of college students showed gifts of money in different kinds of relationships left the recipients less than thrilled, because the money brought up issues of status. In general, giving and receiving can be equally beneficial, especially among close friends and family— as long as the gift itself doesn’t cause any friction Social exchange and well-being: is giving better than receiving? Liang, J., Krause, N.M., Bennett, J.M. Department of Health Management and Policy, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Psychology and Aging, 2001 Sep;16(3):511-23..

The Takeaway

Giving and receiving can both be beneficial among close friends and family, but giving to less familiar recipients doesn’t make us as happy and may even cause depression later in life.Men tend to benefit most from receiving emotional support, and women from giving it. Gifts of money within intimate relationships sometimes result in friction rather than affection.

So dish: Which do you like better, giving or receiving? (Bonus points if you say why!) Tell us in the comments below!

34U34 Mental Health Promo