Scientists discover giving just may be the key to happiness

Happiness is not having a lot.  Happiness is giving a lot. 

Buddhist proverb

Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.

Booker T. Washington

There is more happiness in giving than receiving.

Acts 20:35

 It might seem romantic to say true happiness lies in what we are able to give to others--not in what we are able to gain for ourselves. 

But logically, generosity doesn’t make sense: if we want to better things for ourselves as much as possible, why do many of us give so much of what we have to others--especially when we don’t appear to benefit from the transaction?

A team of researchers in Zurich may have found the answer.

Using 50 subjects and an MRI machine, scientists set out to study the behavioral and neural effects of charitable giving versus receiving.  Specifically, they wanted to figure out why human beings give.

Until now it was thought that giving was almost always a matter of improving a person’s position within a group.  The more you give, the more members of your community will view you favorably.  Similarly, the more you give, the more likely you are to get something in return.

However, at the conclusion of this study, results showed the answer to what motivates us to give is far simpler: we give because it makes us happy.

Researchers split participants into two groups and presented each group with a scenario in which they would be given the equivalent of $26 per week for a month.

Group A was asked to plan how they would spend that money on themselves.  Group B was asked to plan how they would spend that money on others.

While having their brain activity monitored via MRI, researchers asked each participant about their plans for the money, how their plans made them feel, and even presented them with further scenarios requiring them to weigh their own interests against those who might benefit from receiving their money.

What scientists found is the giving group reported higher levels of happiness and satisfaction from the idea of giving.  This group also showed greater levels of brain activity in areas relating to both generosity and happiness.  In fact, the part of the brain associated with altruism and charity actually triggered activity in the part associated with pleasure and happiness.

With these revelations, researchers are now digging deeper into the question of altruism.   If giving makes us happy naturally, is it possible hone and strengthen this instinct?  Can charitable giving be used TO make people happier, even?

Whatever the answers to those questions may be, it seems for now that human beings are simply wired to help one another.  We give because it feels good to give.

And though it’s worthwhile to have a solid scientific basis for that fact, judging by the quotes, verses, and proverbs above, the relationship between true happiness and sharing is something we’ve known about all along.