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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Most of us are familiar with the warm feeling of receiving a gift, but it’s been shown that we actually get more emotional benefits from gift exchanges when we’re the giver. After all, it’s a theory that goes back to biblical times. One sttudy, however, took this concept a step further and finds that doing compassionate acts specifically for a spouse elicits a rewarding feeling — even if they don’t know you’re doing it.

The research, published in the journal Emotion, followed 175 newlyweds living in North America. On average the couples were married 7.17 months.

“Our study was designed to test a hypothesis put forth by Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, that compassionate concern for others’ welfare enhances one’s own affective state,” says Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and lead researcher of the study, in a university release.

To test this out, Reis and his team asked the participants to track their daily emotions over a two-week period. They were also told to record the times that they put their partner’s needs above their own, and what they did in those circumstances — such as changing plans or getting their partner coffee. The researchers predicted that the people doing nice things would feel best when they were recognized for it, but they actually found that recognition was not necessary at all.

They determined that donors benefit from the compassionate acts whether or not anyone knows about it. What’s more, researchers say the donors benefit 45 percent more than their loved ones on the receiving end. The effect was equally strong for both men and women.

Reis says simply showing compassion for a loved one is enough of a reward for a spouse.

“Clearly, a recipient needs to notice a compassionate act in order to emotionally benefit from it. But recognition is much less a factor for the donor,” he explains.

Reis has already planned a follow-up study that will continue on this topic, but will look at how people feel about spending money on others.

About Kate Ferguson

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