Being generous pays off – just a promise to share will make you happy

Money can buy happiness and is used to do exactly that all the time. However, it is not always fortune that you accumulate throughout your life that matters – sometimes it is what we share. A new study from University of Zurich has found that generosity leads to happier lives.

Being generous is simply a good idea – it will make you happy. Image credit: daveynin via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

There really is no point is doing something if it does not bring you happiness. You should always take it into account – sure some actions will lead you to new positions in society or maybe will help you get promoted, but will they make you happier? This new research showed that people who share less are less happy, however, it does not take much to reach this happiness – merely promising to be more generous is enough to trigger a change in our brains that makes us feel better. Scientists have a name for this feeling too – a warm glow and it was detected in an experiment involving 50 people.

Participants were promised a sum of money that they will have to spend in a few weeks. Half of the group committed on spending money on themselves and the other – on someone they knew. When participants were making decisions (how much to give to whom and at what cost) scientists monitored their brain activity in three regions – temporoparietal junction, ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex. Scientists found that those people who behaved generously were much happier afterwards, but that is only half of the story.

Probably the most interesting finding of them all is that it didn’t really matter how generous people were – even a little bit of generosity counts. Philippe Tobler, one of the authors of the study, said: “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice”. People who did not act generously did not notice any changes in their happiness. However, even intent is enough in some cases.

Scientists noticed that simply promising to behave generously activated the altruistic area of the brain. So even before the action is done person can already feel happier just because he is considering being generous. From evolutionary point of view, this warm glow can serve as a reward to encourage people to share and thus to maintain a healthy community. Scientists are thinking that maybe these findings can be put to a use.

If communication between these regions can be enhanced using some therapies, it would be possible to combat depression and other mood disorders just by encouraging people to be more social and to share everything with their peers. But even if it doesn’t have any practical implications, it is important that we all know – being generous makes you happy.


Source: University of Zurich

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