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How Generosity and Giving Benefits Your Well-Being

Giving Back: Here’s Why it Makes You Feel Better

It feels good to get something. There’s something special about receiving a surprise gift from a friend, or getting the exact birthday present you asked for. As they get older, though, most people discover that giving is far better than receiving.

How Generosity Impacts You

Think back to an isolated instance in your life where you did something nice for someone. Whether it was something as inconsequential as holding a door open for an elderly person walking into a store, or as significant as donating a week of your time to travel to a third world country and provide help in the wake of a natural disaster – it made you feel good. Even though it wasn’t about you, per se, lending a hand produced a warm feeling inside.

Well, you aren’t alone in experiencing that warm feeling of happiness and satisfaction – and you shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying an act of sacrifice or kindness.

“Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness,” philanthropy advisor Jenny Santi writes. “Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.”

There are dozens of research studies that support the connection between giving and pleasure. In fact, in many situations, it’s the giver who stands more to gain than the recipient.

“Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful,” Santi points out.

This idea has been reinforced over and over, but a study recently published in Nature Communications is particularly interesting. It was conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and studied the actions, behaviors, and feelings of 50 participants who were told they’d each be receiving $100 over a few weeks.

Half of the participants were asked to commit to spend that money on themselves, while the other half were asked to spend it on someone they knew. But before giving out any money, the researchers brought the participants into the lab and asked them to think about a friend they’d like to give a gift and how much they would spend (hypothetically). They then performed fMRI scans to measure the areas of the brain associated with generosity, social behavior, happiness, and decision-making.

The first takeaway was predictable. The 25 participants who were told to use their $100 on someone else showed signs of being happier and more satisfied. But the second takeaway was even more interesting. It showed that planning to give away just a small bit of money had the same effect on happiness as giving away a substantial amount.

“At least in our study, the amount spent did not matter,” lead author Philippe Tobler says. “It is worth keeping in mind that even little things have a beneficial effect—like bringing coffee to one’s office mates in the morning.”

Practical Ways to Give Back to Your Community

You shouldn’t give with the primary objective of making yourself feel good, but it’s nice to know there’s a strong correlation. If you’re unsure where to start, begin within your immediate community. Here are some ideas:

  • Donate lunch bags to charities that help support children who are less fortunate – such as those in the foster care system.
  • Make freezer meals for a friend who is going through a tough time and drop them off with a kind note.
  • Know a single mom in your neighborhood who is always working or caring for her children? Offer to keep her kids for an afternoon so she can do something for herself.

At
the end of the day, giving is mutually beneficial. Not only do you get a chance to help
someone in need, but you also have the opportunity to enhance your well-being.
So why not do more of it?

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