Your Brain on Gifting: The Present of Presence

‘Tis the Season
The season of gifting is upon us. For most, our gift-giving behavior is at its peak from the end of November through December. While the packages from Black Friday and Cyber Monday may still be making their way to our doorsteps, this blog will explore a simple brain-healthy concept that you can readily gift your loved ones this holiday season: the present of your presence. In this blog we explore the tradition and history of holiday gifts and how gift-giving impacts social connections, memory and brain health. 

Gift-giving traditions vary significantly around the world, reflecting diverse cultural values and customs. In Japan, for instance, the practice of giving and receiving gifts, known as “Omiyage” and “Souvenir,” is deeply ingrained in the culture, often involving meticulous presentation and reciprocation. In many Middle Eastern countries, gifts are given with great respect and often involve an element of negotiation, reflecting the value placed on relationships and hospitality. In Scandinavian countries, there’s a focus on simplicity and practicality in gifts, reflecting cultural values of modesty and functionality. In India, gift-giving is an integral part of many religious and social ceremonies, with gifts often being symbolic, like sweets or religious items. During Diwali, the festival of lights, it’s customary to exchange gifts as a sign of goodwill and prosperity.

The history and cultural significance of gift-giving are as diverse as the world’s cultures themselves. The tradition of Christmas gifts is a blend of Christian and pre-Christian traditions in Europe. Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Babbo Natale, Father Frost, or similar figures representing the spirit of Christmas and gift-giving, appear in various forms across many countries around the world. In the United States this tradition has evolved into a significant part of the holiday season with a focus on generosity, family, and the celebration of love and community. The tradition of Santa Claus giving gifts is rooted in various historical and cultural origins, blending folklore, religious practices, and popular culture. Ultimately, gift-giving serves not only as a means of social and emotional expression but also as a window into the values, traditions, and customs of different societies.

Gifts and Social Connection
Gift-giving has always played a crucial role in building and maintaining social bonds. It has commonly been used as a form of communication, a way to express feelings, show appreciation, and acknowledge others. In many societies, gifts are a way to celebrate milestones such as birthdays, weddings, religious ceremonies, and holidays serving as a physical representation of social ties. In personal relationships, gifts can act as tokens of love, friendship, or gratitude, strengthening bonds and creating shared memories. (Receiving gifts is noted as one of the 5 known “love languages” for how someone may prefer to be shown love and appreciation. You can read more about the 5 love languages here.) 

The Brain Science of Gifting
Gift-giving activates the brain’s reward center. When we give gifts our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This release can create a euphoric state often referred to as the “dopamine effect” which is like what one might experience from eating chocolate or falling in love.

This process is also commonly referred to as the “helper’s high” because it enhances the gift-giver’s mood and can contribute to a greater sense of happiness and well-being. Additionally, the complexity of choosing and giving a gift activates brain regions involved in social bonding and empathy which in turn strengthen interpersonal connections that foster a sense of community and belonging. Simply put, giving and receiving gifts gives the brain a boost!  

The Gift of Memory
Do you have a memorable gifting experience? Or can you recall a heartfelt gift that you received? Gifts often serve as powerful triggers for memories due to their ability to encapsulate moments, emotions, and experiences with loved ones. When we receive a gift our brain’s hippocampus (involved in memory formation) and amygdala (processing emotions) are activated. This creates a strong link between the emotional context of the gift and our memory of the event making gifts strong triggers for recalling memories.

Additionally, gifts often carry emotional weight. They are given during significant life events or personal milestones, such as birthdays, weddings, graduations, or holidays. The emotions felt during these moments – joy, love, surprise – become intertwined with the gift. Later seeing or thinking about the gift can trigger a vivid recall of those emotions and the associated event. In essence, gifts are much more than material objects, they are repositories of emotions, experiences, and connections, each with the unique ability to transport us back in time and relive cherished moments with loved ones.

Neuroscience Meets Noel
A brain-healthy mantra to consider this high holiday season is your presence is a present. Your presence is a gift to others in numerous, often intangible, ways that significantly contribute to the quality of your relationships and the well-being of those around you. This holiday season may you cherish the small moments that bring you joy and laughter. From baking cookies with grandchildren to sharing stories with friends by the fire, may you be present in every moment to create lasting memories with your loved ones. Let us embrace these times with open hearts, creating new traditions and reliving old ones, and fill this season with love, laughter, and unforgettable experiences. Give the gift of your presence. May you celebrate, cherish, and honor the brain this holiday season.

Looking for ways to de-stress this holiday season? Review my previous blog on holiday stress busting tips. 

In brain health and wellness,


P.S. Looking for brain healthy gifts? Get “a-head” in gifting this holiday season with this brainy gift guide where each present is a no-brainer for promoting brain health; a balance of mental stimulation and relaxation. 

Disclaimer: This holiday gift list is a compilation of personal recommendations based on genuine appreciation for the items listed. While these suggestions are curated with care and intended to contribute to brain health and wellness, it’s important to note that I do not receive any compensation or financial benefit from the promotion or sale of these products other than my kids book about brain health. These recommendations stem from a sincere desire to share valuable insights and thoughtful gift ideas with our community.  

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