Remember when you were a kid and your elders kept hammering you with, ‘to give is better than to receive’, (and you replied, ‘Will Santa bring me the rainbow-haired troll already’)? Well, it’s another thing they were right about.

Research shows that people are genuinely happier after spending on others rather than spending on themselves. So let’s let that festive spirit shine.

Give us the goods

A 2008 study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard measured how people felt after spending money on themselves vs spending on others. They asked a group of people to rate their happiness at the beginning of the day, then gave them $20 and split them into smaller groups. One group spent the cash money on themselves, while the second group bought gifts for others. Surprise surprise: it was the charitable group that rated a happiness level boost after the spend. Want to know more? Check out Michael Norton’s TED talk.

But hey, don’t go wild

Remember, the silly season will be over soon and you don’t want your credit card statement to make you feel silly in the new year. Set budgets and think carefully about gifts. What does this person really need? Do they have to be Jimmy Choos? (The answer is no, and if you can afford Jimmy Choos … who are you?) Research shows you get that happiness boost even with as little as a $5 spend. So consider shared experiences, thoughtful gifts, something with personal effort or …

… double-down.

If giving makes us happier, why not give twice by giving to a charity on behalf of someone? Resources like GiveWell help you make your decision on which organisations you’d like to support. This strategy works particularly well on that person who already has everything, babies who don’t know that they’re getting an unexpected karma boost, or (our personal favourite) as a passive-aggressive bird-flip — think Planned Parenthood donations in Mike Pence’s name.

Sarah Nguyen is a co-founder of Carrots Money and an all-round creative type. She’s navigated the maze of money + career as a freelancer and graphic designer. An avid traveller, excellent reverse parker + dedicated crossword-doer, Sar wants to make the world look better, especially for women. Also, she hates describing herself in a blurb.

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