Whether it is donating to a charity, passing on a treasured object to someone, lending a helping hand with nothing to gain in return, or carrying out a random act of kindness it is a deep and soul-satisfying feeling.
But why does it feel so wonderful?
Giving makes us happy
If we are to believe Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”, it should follow that humans are hardwired to be selfish, for their own survival, right? However, there is growing evidence that shows we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive, and perhaps we have always been this way.
Scientific studies have shown that the act of giving affects two "reward" systems in our brain - the same that is stimulated by food, sex and money; as well as the area stimulated when we see babies and romantic partners.
Giving is good for our health
There is a wide range of research to demonstrate that the act of giving is actually physically good for you. One study reports that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis, while another found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over a five-year period than were non-volunteers, even after controlling for their age, exercise habits, general health, and negative health habits like smoking.
Researchers suggest that one reason giving may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress, which is associated with a variety of health problems.
Giving comes back around and promotes connection
You’ve heard of the saying, “what goes around, comes around.” Basically, when you give, you’re more likely to get back: Studies have shown that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.
What’s more, when we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them. When you are kind and generous to others, this leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably.
Giving is contagious
When we give, we not only helping that immediate person, it can also create a ripple effect of generosity through our community.
Studies have shown that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism could spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. In this way, when you give, you can inspire your own network of people, which in turn can influence hundreds of others.
Ways you can give this festive season (without breaking the bank)
- Small thoughtful gifts that you can personalise
- Sending someone a postcard in the mail
- Donating to a charity - It doesn’t need to be money, it can be anything from unused toys to your own time.
- A random act of kindness - this can be anything from paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line, to leaving little notes with compliments for your loved ones around the house, or offer to walk your neighbour’s dog.
- Helping out friends and family, for example cooking a homemade meal and dropping it off for them, babysitting without being asked, or cleaning their car.
So whether you buy gifts, volunteer your time, or donate money to charity this holiday season, your giving is much more than just a year-end chore. It may help you build stronger social connections and even jumpstart a cascade of generosity through your community. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself benefiting from a big dose of happiness in the process.