With the end of the year holiday season only just around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to write about Can Giving Make Us Happy?
My Inner Scrooge
I’m not quite sure why but I’ve never really seen the point of all of this fuss when it comes to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy this time of year. The fresh crisp mornings, late sunrises and time off work.
Of course receiving presents also isn’t something to turn one’s nose up to either. It just feels that it’s something we’re expected to do. I’m all for giving things to friends and family, but I think when we give on ‘non-seasonal’ times of the year, that’s when people appreciate you more.
Something that I never really got my head around was why we always asked what everyone else needed. It seems as I’ve gotten older, that instead of a time for giving, it’s become a time of receiving. Long has the days gone when people appreciated gifts what they got, and now get annoyed for not getting what they asked for.
I remember when I was young that I had no idea what I wanted, so it was up to my parents to guess, a surprise. Because I had no idea what I was getting, I appreciated it regardless.
Is it better to give than to receive?
I’ve started listening to psychology podcasts while at work and a recent episode talking about giving to others encouraged me to write this article.
Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia wrote a paper 2013 about how people’s spending habits can affect their happiness.
Dunn’s first experiment included asking 632 Americans. She asked their general happiness, annual income and general spending habits. Whether this included spending money on bills, expenses or gifts for themselves. She also asked the amount they spent on others.
The experiment was taken across a wide spectrum of social classes and what she found, was that no matter the income, the results were the same, even those with little money.
The next stage of Dunn’s paper then talked about a controlled study which was conducted at the University where she works.
A number of students took part in the experiment and were split into groups. All the students were given an envelope each, which either contained $5 or $20. One set was told to spend the money on themselves (bill, expenses or gift) and the other set was told to spend the money on someone else (gift or charity donation). The only other rule that they had, was to spend it by 5pm that same day.
The students were asked to rate their happiness before and after the experiment. Dunn found out that the students who were told to spend the money on someone else, displayed having greater happiness at the end of the day. With the other group not showing any significant change.
Dunn then went on to describe the experiment to a new set of students, and asked them to predict the participants happiness for each scenario. They predicted that the students with the choice to spend the money on themselves would be happier than those whom had to spend it on someone else. With the students who’d received the $20 being the happiest.
Gifts come in all sizes
Gifts don’t always have to be physical things. Something small like a compliment can go a long way and be just as generous. This is something I do when I approach people before I ask if they’d be up for making a portrait.
Even having a conversation can make a person’s day. For example I approached this fella who was sitting on a bench. I was drawn by his hat and the location he was sitting. After talking to him for about 10-15 minutes, he told me it was the highlight of his day. This made me even more glad for stopping to make his portrait.
I’d recently read something about dependent origination which is a belief rooted in Buddhism. It talks about that all things in this world coexist together and if something ceases too, then something else does also.
“Happiness is not ready made. It comes from your own actions” – Dalai Lama
Photography is a great way of doing something unexpected for someone
Recently on Eric Kim’s blog he posted a video of one of his students making a portrait of an elderly lady. However what was interesting was that he was using a fuji instax camera. After making the portrait he gave the lady the print to keep.
Oddly just before I’d seen the video, I thought to myself that I really should make some use out of my instant camera. Maybe it’s that time of year that makes us all think about giving.
It’s usually the things that catch my and interest me that I compliment. This could be anything from a piece of clothing to even someone’s hair style or colour.
I’m also drawn to people with tattoos, most likely because I’ve always wanted one. I’m fascinated by the stories behind them and the reasons why that person got that particular design. Tattoos can intimidating, but because of their visual nature, people enjoy talking about them.
Another aspect of people I’m drawn to are beards. I guess the only reason behind this is due to me having one, and that they’re cool.
Whenever I’m making a portrait I always like to talk and make conversation. I’m not someone who likes to take a photo as quickly as possible just to run away. Because of this I’ll only start a conversation that I’m genuinely interested in. If there is that interest, then making a conversation becomes natural and not awkward or forced.
I’ve had conversations like the latter at a company party and it’s an uncomfortable situation. So why would I want to do that to others on the street.
After approaching someone and making their portrait I asked to make one final photograph. At that moment I pulled out my instant camera. The model I own is a Lomography Lomo’instant which uses Fuji instax mini film. The camera is pretty colourful and I think the people I took photos of were quite curious about it.
I don’t think they realised the type of camera it was. I expect they were a little surprised when this small credit card sized photo slowly ejected from the side.
The good thing about the Fuji instax film is that it only takes a couple minutes to develop. Once the image fully developed I gave the photo to the person and told them they could keep it.
I think they were a little shocked as it was unexpected. I was extremely nervous giving someone something like that. With only a few frames to use, there wasn’t much room for error.
Even though it was initially daunting, at the end of our conversation I genuinely felt happier. Giving something to someone I’d never met before might seem an odd thing. However the people seemed happy after I gave it to them.
How would you feel if someone did this to you?
We always buy things for ourselves, but what are those things truly worth to us? I’ve been in the process of getting rid of things that have no meaning to me, regardless of value.
Odd then that I’m keeping things such as cinema stubs, receipts or cards. To others these things will seem like rubbish. Though to me, there’s a story behind each item, something sentimental.
I guess that’s another thing I enjoy about photography. Something so small can have great emotional value. I hope also that these small instant photographs that I pass on, create a story for each that reminds them of a conversation they had.
Original post can be found here.
Find out more about Nick and his work: