Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. Helping other people is not only good for them and a great thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also creates stronger connections between people and helps to build a happier society for everyone. And it’s not all about money – we can also give our time, ideas and energy.
So if you want to feel good, do good!
Doing things for others is a powerful way to boost our own happiness as well of those around us, whether in small, unplanned acts or regular volunteering. The people we help may be strangers, family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. They can be old or young, nearby or far away.
Giving isn’t just about money, so you don’t need to be rich. Giving to others can be as simple as a single kind word, smile or a thoughtful gesture. It can include giving time, care, skills, thought or attention. Sometimes these mean as much, if not more, than financial gifts.
Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too.
Kindness towards others is be the glue which connects individual happiness with wider community and societal wellbeing. Giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our basic human needs – relatedness.
Kindness and caring also seem to be contagious. When we see someone do something kind or thoughtful, or we are on the receiving end of kindness, it inspires us to be kinder ourselves. In this way, kindness spreads from one person to the next, influencing the behaviour of people who never saw the original act. Kindness really is the key to creating a happier, more trusting local community.
1. Helping increases happiness
While it has long been assumed that giving also leads to greater happiness this has only recently started to be scientifically proven. For example, when participants in a study did five new acts of kindness on one day per week over a six-week period (even if each act was small) they experienced an increase in well-being, compared to control groups.
In another study, participants who were given $5 or $20 to spend on others or donate to charity experienced greater happiness than people given the same amount to spend on themselves. Interestingly the amount of money did not effect the level of happiness generated.
And there is now evidence that this leads to a virtuous circle – happiness makes us give more, and giving makes us happier, which leads to a greater tendency to give and so on. This effect is consistent across different cultures.
It makes sense that helping others contributes to our own happiness. Scientists are reconsidering the idea of the ‘selfish gene’ and are exploring the evolution of altruism, cooperation, compassion and kindness. Human beings are highly social creatures and have evolved as a species living with others.
If people are altruistic, they are more likely to be liked and so build social connections and stronger and more supportive social networks, which leads to increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Indeed participating in shared tasks like community service, and other social activities, predicts how satisfied people are even after other factors are taken into account.
2. Giving feels good
Giving literally feels good. In a study of over 1,700 women volunteers, scientists described the experience of a ‘helpers’ high’. This was the euphoric feeling, followed by a longer period of calm, experienced by many of the volunteers after helping. These sensations result from the release of endorphins, and is followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being and sense of self-worth, feelings that in turn reduce stress and improve the health of the helper.
It used to be thought that human beings only did things when they got something in return. How then could we explain people who did kind acts or donated money anonymously? Studies of the brain now show that when we give money to good causes, the same parts of the brain light up as if we were receiving money ourselves (or responding to other pleasurable stimuli such as: food, money or sex)!
Giving to others activates the reward centres of our brains which make us feel good and so encourage us to do more of the same. Giving money to a good cause literally feels as good as receiving it, especially if the donations are voluntary.
3. Giving does you good
Giving help has a stronger association with mental health than receiving it. Studies have shown that volunteers have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety and they feel more hopeful. It is also related to feeling good about oneself. It can serve to distract people from dwelling on their own problems and be grateful for what they have. Volunteering is also associated with psychological wellbeing.
Giving may increase how long we live. Studies of older people show that those who give support to others live longer than those who don’t. This included support to friends, relatives, and neighbours and emotional support to their spouse. In contrast, receiving support did not influence living longer.
Volunteering also appeared to predict maintenance of cognitive functioning in a study of 2,500 people in their 70’s who were followed in a study lasting 8 years. Others studies have shown that amongst teenagers, volunteering has been associated with improved self-esteem, reduction in anti-social or problem behaviours and school truancy, improved attitudes to school and increased educational achievement.
Whilst unpicking the benefits of volunteering from other factors can be hard, such as volunteers being more healthy in the first place and so more able to volunteer. The wealth of evidence does suggest some relationship and it may be that volunteering is one intentional activity that people can engage in as a strategy to increase well-being and maintain optimal cognitive functioning in old age.
As a general rule we should try to match our giving activities to things that we find inherently enjoyable, in line with our own goals and feel are worthwhile for ourselves as well as the recipient. If we are happy givers, the recipients will likely benefit more and we are more likely to continue to give.
Being generous needs focus and goals. Contact Us and manage your financial life to give to others.
Call Clifton Wealth 1300 TO WEALTH (1300 869 325).