At least that’s how much it cost me last year.
If I spent that much on myself I’m not sure I could even pretend that I had bought satisfaction, but because of the way I spent it I created some real joy for myself that has brought a warm glow that I’ve enjoyed for a year since then.
As you might expect, the magic was in spending the money to give a gift.
Random Act of Gift-ness
I had been reading some of the research about the happiness effects of giving and one of the findings reminded me of different findings I’ve read about random acts of kindess. Consistently it seems that happy people give gifts and giving gifts makes people happy. It’s a great feedback cycle to be in but how do you start? If you are not already dizzy with joy and dancing with bunny rabbits in a Disney movie what do you do about this knowledge.
Well the research on random acts of kindness suggests the easy answer – pick someone more or less at random and try to make them happy.
So I bought a small box of chocolates at the corner pharmacy and went looking for a victim.
Size Doesn’t Matter – Happiness is Cheap
The first person that occured to me since the pharmacy is near my bus stop was the bus driver on the route I commute on. I rode my commute as normal and then at my station I stopped by the driver’s seat.
“Can you accept gifts?”
“I know that usually the only feedback that you get from riders is complaints from us when you are running late so I wanted to say thank you for geting us where we want to go and putting up with us day after day”
As I gave him the chocolate he had a funny look on his face. I don’t think he cared about the chocolate at all. Honestly if I were him I’m not sure I would trust it even if it was in a cellophaned package.
But he liked being appreciated. He liked a thank you for a job that comes with lots of abuse.
I, as I walked away, was also delighted. I felt like I had made the world a slightly better place by taking the time to appreciate someone else. If I had just said thank you it would be nice, but the driver thought that I had taken time out of my schedule to think about how to say thank you.
It didn’t happen to be true that time, but I had made him feel apreciated and I was happy for that.
Random is Better
I think this story illustrates one of the most important things that I’ve learned studying gift giving behavior and that is how important expectations are to the dance of gift giving and how the most sucessful gifts manage those expectations.
If you think that gifts have to be expensive to have an impact it’s because of the marketing messages saying that you should buy your wife diamonds for your anniversary or buy your kids a car. Those are just commercials though, they don’t have anything to do with human connection.
Exactly because the driver had no expectation of appreciation the gift had impact. Showing appreciation, even though the gift was tiny, made us both happy. The first article I linked to about how giving makes you feel good confirms the point: the size of a gift has little to do with how happy it makes the giver or the recipient. The act of giving itself has most of the effect.
Since then I’ve done a few more random acts of kindness. Never enough, not really, but every one stands out in my memory as something I’ve been proud to do. Something that made happy in the moment and in remembering it later.
It’s a great ride, and it turns out that admission comes cheap. Give it a try.