Almost everybody has given at least one bouquet of flowers to someone special. It’s a wonderful part of life. Going to someone’s house? Grab a bouquet. A friend has a baby? It’s flowers to the hospital. Someone’s birthday? Relative not feeling well? What do we do to perk up their day? Send flowers, of course! And now science is actually backing up a fact that people have already known for some time: Flowers make people happy! But did you know this: They can help improve our memory, too?!

Receiving bouquet

Even a small bouquet can brighten someone’s day!

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Cutflower bouquet

You don’t have to call the florist, just look around the garden for the season’s best blooms.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Researchers from Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey – and La Salle University in Pennsylvania studied the response of individuals who got flowers as a gift compared with other presents. The scientists concluded unequivocally that flowers have a real effect on positive emotions. In other words, flowers really do make people happy – and even the biggest of cynics would have a hard time disputing the results.

There were three main studies that proved how flowers spread joy:

Study No. 1 was all about the smile. Female participants received a gift – either a mixed-flower bouquet (including roses, lilies and stock); a fruit and sweets basket; or a large, multi-wicked candle on a stand. All gifts had comparable economic value, a pleasant aroma and were wrapped in clear plastic with a colorful bow.

An observer noted the facial expression on each recipient in the first five seconds after the gift was given and classified it as one of three types: the Duchenne smile, which uses facial muscles around the mouth and the eyes; the zygomatic smile, which doesn’t involve the muscles around the eyes; and no smile at all. Everyone who received the flowers displayed the Duchenne smile within the first five seconds, compared with 90 percent who got the fruit and sweet basket, and 77 percent of the candle recipients.

But the research didn’t stop there – scientists wondered what the recipients did with their gift after receiving it. They found that the flowers were more likely to be displayed in a communal space for all to enjoy compared with the candle and fruit presents, which were more often placed in a private space.

Study No. 2 examined strangers in an elevator. The experiment used both men and women who were given a single-stem Gerbera daisy, a pen with a university inscription or nothing at all. During the exchange, researchers observed the recipients’ facial reactions, spatial proximity, initiation of conversation and eye contact. Interestingly, men and women were more likely to smile, stand at a social distance and initiate conversation when presented with a flower as opposed to a pen or nothing.

In Study No. 3, researchers considered the social and cognitive effect of flowers on senior retirees. In the two-week experiment, participants either received bouquets the first week only, the second week only, for both weeks or only at the end of the study. The mood of each participant was measured during the two-week period, and participants kept a social contact log during that time, including memory accounts of the flowers, as well as the social events.

As you might guess, researchers found that people who received flower bouquets were happier than those who didn’t receive them. And those who received two bouquets over the study were happier than those who received only one. It was also noted that participants who received flowers displayed better episodic memory than those who had yet to receive any.

And aside from the tedious data required of any psychology experiment, the researchers also noted what pleasant work it was to observe the positive emotions produced by simply giving someone flowers. In fact, they watched several displays of emotion in response to the blooms that the scientists were unprepared to measure! Flower-givers were hugged and kissed, sent “thank you” cards and letters, and were even sent photos of the bouquets. Despite years of behavioral research – including evaluating responses to candy, doughnuts, shirts, gift certificates and money – the scientists reported that only flowers have elicited such a positive emotional response beyond the parameters of the research!

So if you’re looking for that perfect gift (that can boost memory, too), you really can’t go wrong with flowers!