Stressed this holiday season? Researchers say it’s time to buy yourself a gift

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It’s often said it’s better to give than receive, but who says you can’t give yourself something nice every once in a while? The holidays are stressful for many people, and much of that anxiety comes from agonizing over finding the perfect presents for loved ones. If you’re feeling extra-stressed this holiday season, it may be time to “self-gift.”

Scientists from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business report that when our stress levels are at their highest, we stand to benefit the most from taking the time to self-gift.

Defined as the act of engaging with a product or experience with the primary goal of boosting one’s emotional well-being, self-gifting doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or excessive. While a trip to the spa or an expensive new gadget certainly fits if it’s within budget, self-gifting can be as simple as taking a few minutes for a cup of tea, listening to some of your favorite music, or watching a relaxing YouTube video — anything that prioritizes you above anyone or anything else.

“There are so many ads reminding us to take a moment for ourselves, for self-care, but we find that people are least likely to engage in this kind of behavior when they need it most,” says Kelley Gullo Wight, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School, in a university release.

“There’s this moment of self-sabotage. People who feel the most constrained or stressed aren’t taking advantage of these self-gifts. You might think, I’ll be too distracted, or I won’t be able to have a mindful moment to benefit, but our research shows this belief is wrong. People are able to benefit and focus even if they’re stressed. In fact, that exactly when you need it the most. Taking the time to ‘self-gift’ will lead you to feel less stressed in the long run.”

Rushing around leads to less self-care

Prof. Wright and study co-authors, Jacqueline R. Rifkin, assistant professor at the Samuel Curtis Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, and Keisha M. Cutright, associate professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, made use of behavioral experiments to analyze why people often don’t take advantage of “self-gifting experiences,” as well as when such excursions would most benefit them.

Notably, people feeling especially short on time were the least likely to self-gift. However, that same group enjoyed the most relaxation and happiness benefits when they did indulge themselves. For marketers, study authors recommend encouraging consumers to self-gift more often by emphasizing products or experiences as being beneficial during stressful times.

“This holiday season, if you’re focusing on everyone else, you’ve got people coming into town, and absolutely no time for yourself, take two minutes,” Prof. Wight concludes. “You may tend to want to wait for self-care until the stressor is over, but our research shows you’ll benefit most by taking a minute for yourself anyways. That’s when you should be looking out for you.”

The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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