I’ve just read a great article on Scientific American about how giving to others can make you happier. I personally do not volunteer much, but I certain know the pleasure I get from making and giving gifts. However, this research has gone a step further to find that having a concrete goal when you are giving will lead to you feeling happier. So, for example, saying you want to make someone smile (concrete and observable) will make you happier than if you wanted to cheer someone up (abstract). The authors explain why this is the case:
We discovered that framing a goal in concrete terms makes a giver more realistic about their prospects of success. When expectations are too high, it can lead to disappointment and less happiness. But when you frame a goal concretely, you become more focused on how to achieve that goal and can better anticipate the obstacles and opportunities you might encounter along the way.