Shopping Trolley - Oxytocin waiting?
Shopping Trolley

Have you been given an unexpected gift lately?

Have you been given an unexpected gift lately?

I was recently shopping at our local supermarket and after packing our groceries into the car, I was returning the trolley to the trolly bay when I saw another customer doing the same thing. However, she was doing more than putting her trolley back, she was collecting the other random trolleys that had been left haphazardly around the car park and returning them to the trolley bay too.

I was really impressed and said something along the lines of “Gee, you’re doing a great job, well done.  There should be more people like you”.  As I returned to our car, I was surprised when the lady called me back, saying, “Thank you for appreciating what I’m doing. As a thank you, here, please take this Lotto ticket that I’ve just bought, it may bring you some good luck”. And despite my protestations, she insisted I take the ticket.

To say I was ‘blown away’ by her kindness would be an understatement. In fact, for once in my life I was totally speechless. So much so, that I didn’t even get her name or contact details in case the ticket won something.

So, what’s happening when you receive a surprise gift, and for that matter how does it affect the giver?

We all know that we feel good - sometimes awkward or embarrassed – but always good when we receive a surprise gift. A study at the School of Human Sciences at the London Metropolitan University showed why.  The oxytocin levels in our brains rise when we receive a gift. And for the uninitiated, oxytocin is more commonly known as the ‘love’ or ‘cuddle’ hormone.

Researchers also found that recipients emphasized the ‘element of surprise’, appreciating the interaction more when the communication was more unexpected.

And surprisingly, this research also shows that the chemical, oxytocin that produces the reaction in us that’s akin to falling in love, is replicated in the person giving the gift too – it’s a neuropeptide that signals trust, safety, and connection.

In terms of the giver, researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, gave 50 people $100, and instructed half of them to spend it on themselves, and the other half to spend it on someone else over the next four weeks. Then, they performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure activity in the brain associated with generosity and pleasure during a social sharing task. They found that those who spent money on other people had more generous and fair interactions with other people and reported higher levels of happiness after the experiment was over.

So, if you’re looking to build trust, safety and connection with others and in the process feel happier, then surprise people with a small, unexpected gift – it will delight both you and the receiver.

Oh, and in case some of you are wondering – the Lotto ticket did not win a prize and any anxiety levels I might have experienced in trying to find the giver, were avoided. However, it remains one of the nicest, unexpected things that has ever happened to me. I still get ‘goose bumps’ thinking about it.


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