Ever wondered why we stand in unbearable queues just days before Christmas to get our loved ones that thing they always wanted? Unlikely as it may seem, it could be that we are unknowingly doing it to cheer ourselves up as well.

The act of gift giving is undeniably very noble, especially considering this peculiar activity appears to be limited to humans. But as with many other wacky things we do, there is most likely an evolutionary mechanism hiding behind it somewhere. English biologist and author Richard Dawkins already addressed the issue of altruism in his book The Selfish Gene in 1976. He pointed out that altruism is in fact present in many animals and it mostly leads to long-term gain for the altruistic individual. Here are some more examples of animals that love to give.

A more recent study on the origins of altruism and empathy reveled the same could be true for humans. It postulates that our altruistic behavior evolved for the return-benefits it bears the performer. However, for these return-benefits to play a motivational role in decision making, they need to be experienced by the organism in some way. As described by James Andreoni, an economics professor who developed the so-called “warm glow” theory of giving, we mainly give for the positive feelings it brings us, and not for the actual benefits it brings to the recipient. This is referred to as impure-altruism.

Acting in self-interest, however, does not necessarily mean acting selfish. As Professor Andreoni put it: “As human beings, we naturally want to be connected and helpful. It helps us stick together as communities and take care of each other.” So, no need to feel bad if gifting your loved ones brings you joy, on the contrary, it works both ways and only strengthens our social ties.

Give your gifts and stay happy!

Find out more about why we give in the video bellow:


By Luka Zupančič, MSc, University of Applied Sciences Technikum Vienna