By Alison Bell
If you have a few extra dollars to spend, you might figure you’d be happier treating yourself to a dinner out or a new shirt. Not true, research shows. People who give to others rather than spend all their money on themselves are actually happier. In addition, studies also prove that there are many other advantages of giving on our psyche and our health.
With Giving Tuesday and the holidays coming up, this time of year is also the season to give back. There are plenty of opportunities right now to give to Hillsides for the holidays, for example, which you can easily do here. We all know that giving to Hillsides helps the children, youth and families we serve heal, grow, and thrive, but did you know that giving is also good for us?
Here is what current studies are showing.
- Boosts happiness. Three separate studies by Harvard Business School professor Michael I. Norton and his colleagues revealed that it’s not how much you make, it’s how you spend it than brings you joy. They also found people are happier if they give some of their money away. One study showed that spending as little as $5 over the course of a day on another person led to demonstrable increases in happiness. In addition, studies run in both Canada and Uganda have produced results that giving increases a sense of well-being, suggesting this is an innate human response that transcends culture and place.
- Activates the feel-good part of your brain. In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people had the option to either donate money to a charity or take a pay out. Surprisingly, researchers witnessed a similar pattern of brain activity whether or not the subjects decided to keep the money or give it away. Both behaviors activated the midbrain, the part of the brain that is associated with basic desires, such as an appetite for food, revealing how giving is hard-wired into our brains to give us pleasure.
- Produces “happiness” chemicals.Research has shown that helping others causes our bodies to produce dopamine, endorphins that block pain signals, and oxytocin, known as the tranquility hormone. Oxytocin is also a bonding hormone, thought to be responsible for new mothers attaching to their babies. Even just thinking about donating to a specific charity produces these chemicals, studies show.
- Lowers your blood pressure.Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada, measured people’s blood pressure before and after giving. She discovered that blood pressure fell when people gave significantly to other people or causes, but did not change when they spent money on themselves. When the cause was near and dear to the giver’s heart, these results were even greater.
- Decreases stress.Dunn’s research also shows that when people don’t give, they feel shame. She found this out when she ran an experiment where she and fellow researchers gave people $10 and let them decide whether to spend it on themselves or give it away. Those who kept the dollars for themselves reported feeling ashamed. The greater the shame, the more a person’s cortisol levels rose. Cortisol is known as the “stress” hormone, and elevated levels over time may lead to disease. So the next time you generously donate money, you may be actually even extending your life!