Most of us give to give. It’s part of our belief system, or we’re motivated by a cause or event. Look at the recent hurricanes which devastated large portions of our country. Everywhere we turned, there were campaigns and donate buttons populating our Google searches and social feeds. It’s beautiful to watch as a nation rallies around causes. It’s how we rebuild lives and spread hope.
And while we love that little boost of happiness from the dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin released when we help others, the benefits don’t stop there. The effects of generosity go way beyond the moment directly after giving, contributing to a lifetime of wellness.
Generosity and Happiness
In a 2017 University of Zurich study, doctors designed a study examining the brain activity of generosity. It was essentially a “this is your brain on generosity” study. They decided to examine if pledging to be more generous would increase happiness. Solely thinking about being generous increased activity in the part of the brain where happiness lives. Plus, researchers observed increased function in the decision-making region of the brain.
And, oddly enough, these results were the same no matter how much the individual pledged to give. Whether it was just a little something, or the thought of a more substantial gift, the brain activity remained the same. This means even doing small things for others has significant outcomes for your levels of happiness.
And while we definitely could all use a bit more joy, generosity’s positive effects don’t end at our mood.
Generosity and Your Health
The Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS) study tracked individuals with high blood pressure. Those who gave consistently had lowered their blood pressure two years later. Another cohort in this study were charged with spending money on others. In comparison with those assigned spending money on themselves, that group’s blood pressure also declined significantly. In fact, these interventions had similar results as medication and exercise.
Being generous also leads to lower mortality rates. The American Journal of Public Health published research on the relationship between generosity, stress and mortality. The results are astounding. For those that help others, their levels of stress are not directly tied to their mortality rates. For those who didn’t tend to help others, their levels of stress accurately predicted their rates of mortality. They found, “helping others predicted reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.”
Phillipe Tobler, one of the researchers for the University of Zurich study, summed it up nicely in an interview with Time magazine. In reflecting on the results of his findings, he concluded that “actually helping others and being generous to them increases happiness,” but he added, “making a commitment to help others is a first step.”
So, be part of the movement as we commit to helping others, making this world a better, healthier place for us all.