If you speak to people who give to charity or otherwise perform good deeds, you’ll often hear them say that they feel like they gain more than they give. As it turns out, humans are hardwired to benefit psychologically from doing good for others. You can improve everything from mood to your financial position, simply by being more generous. Here is what modern science has to say about the benefits of giving.
Giving Improves Mood
In 2008, the Harvard Business School released a study in which the benefits of giving money versus simply spending it on personal interests was investigated. Results indicated that happiness was impacted to a greater degree by giving to someone else. According to happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky of University of California Riverside, results like this are typical and fMRI testing has shown that giving to charity activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure and social connection. It is also thought that altruistic behavior can increase endorphin levels in the brain and produce a positive feeling that is colloquially termed the “helper’s high.”
Being kind and generous can have another interesting effect on mood. The more you give to others, the more positively you view the world around you. In other words, by acting in a positive manner, you are more likely to recognize positive attributes in those around you and feel more satisfied with the state of the world.
As was hinted at above, giving can boost cooperation and social connection. Studies indicate that human altruism is at least partially influenced by the fact that giving can lead to reward at a future date. In other words, giving may be beneficial to the species not only because it improves social cohesion and enhances the health of the family unit, but also because it creates a sort of reciprocity agreement that can lead to improved outcomes if the giver falls on hard times in the future. Studies have reinforced this observation, demonstrating that behaving generously inspires others to behave generously. Altruism, it turns out, can spread in three different ways. It spreads from one person to another, from one group to another, and from one person to an entire group. The result is that being kind motivates others to be kind, which eventually comes back to you as acts of kindness later on.
Studies show that giving elicits feelings of gratitude and that expressing gratitude to a close friend or a romantic partner can strengthen our sense of connection to other people. What is more, cultivating gratitude is one of the primary ways in which to increase personal happiness. This includes not only getting gratitude from others, but expressing gratitude for gifts that you receive as well. Personalized gifts, such as those from Zoey’s Personalized Gifts, can elicit the strongest feelings of gratitude and connectedness.
The impact of giving can be at least partially explained by the release of a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin is commonly associated with breast-feeding and strengthening of the bond between mother and child. Studies show that the release of oxytocin produces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others and has found that oxytocin is often released during sex, improving the bond between partners. Research from Claremont Graduate University has revealed that a dose of oxytocin can cause people to behave more generously toward one another and to feel more empathy towards others.
The Take Home Messages
There are actually two messages that should be taken away from the psychology of giving. First, giving to others can be more beneficial to our own well-being than previously thought. Giving boosts mood and in so doing produces a number of benefits that extend to mental and to physical health. Research even shows that generosity can improve the symptoms of chronic disease and reduce an individual’s risk of dying over a given period of time.
The second message that should be taken away from the psychology giving if that accepting gifts from others is actually a form of giving back. By accepting a gift from another person you are giving them all of the positive benefits that come from gifting. In other words, accepting a gift can also be a charitable act.
Bethany Slater is a personal assistant. She likes to share her insights on the internet. Her articles can be found mainly on shopping and lifestyle sites.