October 21st – “Everyone gets to be greedy every now and then, and today is your day.”

img_8464It’s never too late to celebrate a birthday! My friend’s 40th birthday was over two weeks ago, but I am celebrating it with her today. We only see each other a few times a year, so this was a good opportunity. I don’t often give gifts to friends and family, but I do enjoy a sharing a good dessert. I was too lazy to make anything last night, so I picked up a few things at the Hong Kong bakery near work.

From top left going clockwise: pineapple bun filled with egg custard, coconut bread, curry beef puff pastry, and bbq pork puff.

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If you’ve never had Hong Kong style baked goods before, their pastries are heavily influenced by the British since Hong Kong was a British Colony. They have their version of British favorites like creamed horns, iced buns, mille-feuille, tarts, and Swiss rolls.

I also got some flowers.

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These are obviously for her, but I get to enjoy them as well. I’m very frugal and rarely spend money on indulgences like this for myself. I would LOVE to have flowers at home, but I would feel guilty. When I get them for someone else, I feel happy. While it may seem generous that I spend my money on others rather than myself, there is an immeasurable benefit that I receive from gift giving.

Because I only give gifts to people who aren’t expecting them, I never expect a gift in return. When obligation is removed from gift giving, it becomes something that I want to do. Moreover, I just learned that it’s common to get HIGH from it!

In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

Gift giving and charity doesn’t have to come in the form of money or chocolate chip cookies. In fact, the time that one gives to another can be the more valuable. Sometimes gifts come in the form of helping a neighbor watch their cat, listening to the stranger vent about a bad day, or teaching a kid how to ride a bike.

One of my favorite gifts at the moment is the FREE parking space that I was given across the street from work. A friend offered her extra space to me when she realized that I worked right next door to her. I commute from my little town to a crowded city, so it’s really an incredible gift. It’s amazing how much I value empty space! Thank you! Maybe in return, I’ll surprise her with a basket full of kittens!

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