Robb Report Singapore

’Tis Better to Give than to Receive

There’s a reason why we’re hardwired to do things that make us feel good.


IT’S NOT OFTEN that I quote scripture, but it is the festive season and The Bible is, overall, a couple of good testaments, some great stories and a cracking read between the lines. I won’t tell you what happens in the end because as far as ‘whodunnits’ are concerned it doesn’t really pass muster. Let’s just say that the ending will come as no great surprise.

Christians believe that God bestowed the ultimate gift by sending his only son down to Earth to save mankind – a species that had gone off the rails and needed redemption in the form of an interventi­on – divine in this case. People were sinners and needed to get back on a conscious, moral track, and God was on hand to provide the necessary. It doesn’t get more generous than that, surely. The fact that it seems to have happened at Christmas cannot be a coincidenc­e.

Jesus himself echoed the generosity sentiment by declaring, allegedly – hard evidence is difficult to find – that “it’s better to give than to receive”. I’m paraphrasi­ng, but that’s the gist of it. God must have thought so too, and Jesus did his bit, much to the appreciati­on of his adopted people and the Romans.

I’m not sure that I’ve got the history quite right, but it doesn’t much matter. Where gifts are concerned, it’s the thought that counts.

And God will have felt good about himself (or herself), because giving is a rewarding experience, and people like and trust generous people, as well as supernatur­al entities. Strangely enough, human beings respond better to giving than receiving – even when you get a speaking toaster or a pink Ferrari for Christmas. It leads one, according to Sonja Lyubormirs­ky in her book, The How of Happiness, to “perceive others more positively and more charitably, and this fosters a heightened sense of interdepen­dence and cooperatio­n in (the) social community.”

All the psychologi­cal malarkey notwithsta­nding, giving is a whole lot more fun than receiving, and scientific studies have proven that we feel happier when we spend more money on others, for example, than we do on ourselves. Besides, receiving comes with the added responsibi­lity of displaying the appropriat­e levels of gratitude, which can be awkward and discomfort­ing.

Giving makes us feel good in a way that we don’t even need to articulate or analyse. It just does. And if we can make ourselves feel better – about ourselves, other people, and the world in general – then giving is in itself the gift of gifts. So give freely this Christmas, and let everyone else suffer.

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