With Christmas just around the corner, and last minute shopping to be done, I have started to think about what makes a present meaningful. Some of my family members are over the moon when presented with a really nice pair of fluffy socks, whereas others require well thought out, quality gifts that I would never think of by myself. This is also why my rule is quickly becoming: when in doubt, consider art.
It does not have to be a Van Gogh to make someone feel special either. When you are a kid, of course, you can scribble anything on a piece of paper and create a meaningful gift. When you get older, it turns out people get a bit tired of your scribbles, however, a pretty print or a watercolour of your favourite beach never fails to please even the sourest relative.
The reason behind this turns out to be a physical response in your brain when you look at art. A study preformed at Colombia University monitored stimulation in the brain of subjects as they looked at art. They observed that the subject actually responded as if they were in the painting. For example, if they were looking at a painting of someone flinching, their motor cortex would stimulate mentally mimicking the motion in the painting. They said similarly, the brain’s chemical responses mirrored the tone of the painting. When the subject gazed at a peaceful landscape, their brain released more serotonin and their anxiety levels went down.
Another Colombia study that observed over 400 subjects suggested that colours had a similar chemical effect in the brain- and could actually physically make a subject happier or more excited just by looking at them. In addition, this release does not seem to diminish over time. It looks like the expressionists were on to something.
So when the pressure is on at this time of year to get that someone special something really meaningful, and you just don’t think socks will do it, this year you can give the gift of happiness.