“It’s better to give than to receive.”
We’ve all heard the adage, and research has proven it’s true when it comes to our happiness. When you give to the less fortunate, whether money or time, you add to their lives and your own. No matter how much or little you give, you can transform lives.
Recently, I was stepping out of a prayer meeting with a friend when we met an older woman with mobility issues and trouble speaking. We helped her cross a low barrier on the street and get to a bench on the other side. She gestured to bless us and looked at us with immense motherly affection. When I caressed her face, I felt a gush of love rise in my chest, with all the endorphins flooding my system. At that moment, I realized giving in any manner made me far happier than perhaps the person I helped or supported. Certainly, it is not why we do it, but the joy as a by-product of selfless giving is of the purest nature.
These results suggest that the capacity to derive joy from giving might be a universal feature of human psychology.”—Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off
Harvard Business School researchers conducted an experiment giving participants $5 or $20 and asked them to spend it on themselves or someone else. Their first observation was that there was no emotional difference among those who got either $5 or $20. They also found that those who gave the money away reported being happier. This was revolutionary—it disputed the idea that the power of self-gratification is what makes us happy.
Serve and Live Longer
Believe it or not, giving and volunteering can also make us live longer, boosting our overall health. According to Californian researchers, older adults living in communities who volunteer have a 44 percent (adjusted for other variations) lower chance of dying in the next five years versus those who don’t.
“Any level of volunteering reduced mortality by 60 percent among weekly attenders at religious services,” researchers found. Studies also found that the act of serving or volunteering has an intrinsic reward and that it has nothing to do with whether some people are more likely or capable of volunteering than others.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. —Mahatma Gandhi
Giving can Help Alleviate Depression
When we are overly consumed by our own needs and spend all of our time and resources fulfilling those needs and desires, we can get into a vicious loop that results in us feeling depressed and dissatisfied. One way of getting out of this cycle is by giving. Giving shifts our focus from ourselves to others. Multiple studies have found volunteers are less likely to get depressed. Not only that, but volunteering and compassion have long-lasting anti-depressive benefits for our mental and physical health.
Volunteering can also help reduce the intensity of chronic pain, according to the American Society of Pain Management Nurses. Their study found that on offering peer support, nurses in chronic pain reported declines in the intensity of pain, disability levels, and depression.
Giving Makes You Happier than Self-Gratification
You would think that acts of self-gratification would increase our experience of happiness or positive emotion in general, but research suggests that these gains are more remarkable when we engage in acts of kindness, or as experts call it, prosocial behavior.
“Those who give to others instead of themselves report higher rates of happiness, regardless of the amount of money or size of the gifts involved, and regardless of the source of the funds. Similarly, those who perform kind acts for others enjoy greater emotional well-being than those engaging in self-focused acts,” researchers said.
Gives You a Sense of Meaning
We do not need detailed studies to show us that an act of giving, volunteering, or advocacy can bring a sense of deep purpose to our lives. American social psychologist R. F. Baumeister explains in his book Meaning of Life, “people find a sense of meaning when they believe that their actions are ‘right and good and justifiable.’”
Happiness also arises from the increased belongingness of doing something good for others.
The Joy of Giving is Universal
One may wonder if giving away monies makes you less or more happy when you have loads of it or if the correlation between happiness and giving money weakens when you are from a low-income country and struggle financially.
Researchers’ examined the correlation between charitable giving and happiness in 136 countries. In 120 out of 136 countries, there was a significant positive relationship between giving and happiness (controlling for income and other demographic variables). Although the strength of the relationship varied, individuals in poor and rich countries alike reported greater happiness if they engaged in prosocial spending.
That Feeling is Real
Giving boosts your body temperature, causing that warm glow feeling. (Which invites the question—is giving truly a selfless act or a selfish one?) It remains a fact that giving releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin and endorphins in the system, leading to the ‘helper’s high—euphoric experience that boosts both mental and physical health.
Ways to Give
Doing good doesn’t have to drain your bank account, nor do you have to go off to another continent to serve the ‘less fortunate.’—you can start from where you are.
Do something as simple as volunteering your time for someone who needs their house tidied or getting medicines for someone who doesn’t have the money or physical ability. Being kinder and listening to a dear friend or a family member counts too! Your active intent to help or act is really the starting point.
A few simple ways you can do your bit for the world may be:
1. Spending quality time. Whether it is an old friend you’ve lost touch with, a neighbor, or animals in a shelter, everyone could use the company of someone who cares. Spending quality time, sharing your affection and concern, checking in on them, feeding them good food, listening, and just being around them can not only make them feel loved and taken care of but also lift your spirits and make you feel less lonely.
Building meaningful connections through giving and being available produces feelings of safety, community, and belongingness.
2. Put aside some funds for a cause you believe in. Whether for climate change, saving animal lives, fighting hunger, or fighting for the rights of identity, donating just 5% of your salary for a cause you believe in can bring a lot of satisfaction and life purpose. Researchers suggest we do not automate these payments. Instead, it should be done as a conscious act as regularly as possible. Apart from making resources available where there is a need, keeping aside a small portion of your paycheck also helps to keep the guilt of self-gratification out of your mind, though that should not be a reason to be kind.
3. Perform random acts of kindness. Scientists tell us that three daily acts of kindness can recharge your happiness batteries. They can include running an errand for someone, shoveling snow for a neighbor, or feeding an expired parking meter.
Performing random acts of kindness will likely inspire the receiver to pay it forward and increase serotonin in both the giver and receiver. More serotonin means a better mood, a feeling of lightness, and, you guessed it, increased happiness.
4. Laugh with someone. Nothing is as uplifting as sharing laughter and good vibrations with others. It can lighten a tense atmosphere, bring someone out of a gloomy mood, and temporarily suspend negative thoughts. Laughter is a popular antidote to depression and can help let someone know they are not alone. In addition, it can instantly lift off unseen burdens people carry around on their shoulders in their struggles to win at the game of life.
5. Share positive stories/news. At a time when the news and social media are flooded with negativity, bigotry, and pessimism, sharing feel-good stories, experiences, and uplifting talks—especially sharing the voices and lending a platform to people who are discriminated against or are in a minority—can be simple but powerful acts of kindness and inclusion.
There are hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, of ways to make a difference in the lives of others and by doing so, you’ll make differences in your own life you might not have thought possible. Thank you for helping make the world a better place!