“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
The following is adapted from the Greater Good website
To give is to receive happiness. It is easy to sit back and take or to feel bitter that you aren’t given what you want. But the greatest gift you could have is to be a giver. But don’t do it for selfish reasons or for reward, do it because giving is a reward in itself. The benefits are many:
Giving makes us feel happy
A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more that spending it on themselves.
These good feelings are reflected in our biology. In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”
The essential difference between the unhappy, neurotic type person and him of great joy is the difference between get and give.
– Erich Fromm
Giving is good for our health
A wide range of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among the sick and elderly.
Researchers suggest that one reason giving may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress, which is associated with a variety of health problems.
Giving promotes cooperation and social connection
When you give, you are more likely to get back. Several studies have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.
These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others—and research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health.
Giving evokes gratitude.
Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude—it can be a way of expressing gratitude or instilling gratitude in the recipient. And research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds.
Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, co-directors of the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, found that teaching college students to “count their blessings” and cultivate gratitude caused them to exercise more, be more optimistic, and feel better about their lives overall.
Giving is contagious.
When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community.
A study by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism could spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. “As a result,” they write, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
So whether you buy gifts, volunteer your time, or donate money to charity this holiday season, your giving is much more than just a year-end chore. It may help you build stronger social connections and even jumpstart a cascade of generosity through your community. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself benefiting from a big dose of happiness in the process.