Health and Wellness |

The Psychology Of Giving Back

July 5, 2017
lady standing outdoors in a field with the sun rising, and her hands in the air


How doing good for others means doing good for you.

Did you know that by doing something for someone else, you (the giver) can reap the rewards as well? In fact, countless studies across the board now indicate that the giver actually feels happier than the recipient – but why is that? Evolutionary psychologists would say our brains developed this way to assist our survival – the same way chameleons developed incredibly fast tongues and a powerful sense of vision to assist their survival. Humans are social creatures – we rely on each other (and each other’s generosity) to survive. The development of positive reward systems linked directly to generosity is an evolutionary by-product of a complex organism which thrives off teamwork and compassion.

It’s been observed that when you do something for someone else, feel-good endorphins, the same ones associated with a long run, flood the pleasure and reward centres of the brain.

Not only this, but heightened levels of oxytocin flood your body, which can lower stress levels and increase feelings of connectedness with others. It’s important to note that this isn’t just a momentary high either – heightened levels of oxytocin can give the generous party a physiological boost for up to two hours. This can, and often does, create a domino effect – the person who receives the act of generosity also feels good, and with this increased level of happiness will be more likely to pay that kindness forward. The psychology of giving is now such an important area of study that research centres are appearing all over the world, with several books, articles and publications on the subject being released daily.

It’s also been noted that different acts of generosity yield different results. Volunteer work (work which is associated with large, overarching improvements in people’s lives) is associated with high levels of overall life satisfaction. In a recent study, surveying those from 136 countries, donating to a charity or volunteer program had the same impact on people’s happiness as doubling one’s household income – it can be that powerful! Furthermore, a study carried out by colleagues of the Harvard Business School found that when an act of generosity contains a social element (as opposed to an anonymous donation) the results are even more staggering. The results show that the more connection one has to the person or organisation being helped, the happier they feel. Stephen Post in his book ‘Why Good Things Happen to Good People’ illustrates how giving can even have major health benefits for those who are ill. People with chronic illness, including HIV, multiple sclerosis and heart problems have all benefited from the medicine of giving back. Furthermore, research shows that generous behaviour is also closely associated with a lower mortality rate, along with lower rates of depression. It’s important to not let these statistics make you feel forced into giving back, however, as the brain is too smart for that. Research shows that we only feel the rewards of giving if we actually want to give back, as opposed to feeling like we have to.

The greatest moments in our lives are the moments saturated with positive emotion. Seeing the smile and joy on someone’s face, after you’ve helped them, is an important aspect when it comes to feeling the happiness philanthropists feel when they give back, time and time again.

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