The holidays are upon us, a time of traditions, celebrations, and giving. Giving and helping others can take countless forms; from giving money to charity, to helping a stranger dig his car out of the snow, to simply sharing your company with someone. No matter how or what you give, the result is the same – happiness. Researchers have found that giving makes people happier, and that happier people give more.
At the most basic level, brain images from MRI scans show that people who give to charity lead to similar brain activity in the pleasure and reward circuitry, activating the neurotransmitter dopamine, a rewarding stimuli similar to using drugs or seeing an attractive face. And since pleasure is a central motivator in our lives, when we discover something that gives us pleasure, it is a natural reaction to want to make it happen again. These results suggest then, that giving is inherently rewarding.
Numerous studies over the last 40 years have similarly concluded that happiness increases charitable behaviour and this behaviour is fuelled by positive emotions. In 1972 Isen and Levin found that the participants who experienced positive events, like receiving cookies or finding a dime in a payphone, were more likely to help others in return. Additionally and consistent with other studies, researchers found that higher levels of volunteer work were associated with higher levels of overall life satisfaction. Finally, a study looking at those who gave money to charity versus those who did not, found that individuals who devoted more money to charity reported greater happiness, whereas personal spending was unrelated to happiness. Interestingly, the amount of money people were given in the study, did not influence how happy they were, which suggests that how people spent their money was more important than how much they received. In fact, it was found that as little as five dollars was plenty to boost happiness levels.
Let us all add to the findings of the studies; go out today and give. Buy someone their coffee, donate to a local charity, sit and talk to a stranger. How would it feel to receive the same back?
In the spirit of the holidays and in light of this research, I hope a new sense of giving will enter your life – filling your life with a lot of love, and whole lot of happiness.