Scientists on generosity: why giving makes us so much happier

Scientists on generosity: why giving makes us so much happier

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Generous people are happier
Life is a take and give, it says in an old saying. However, this is not entirely balanced. Some people are significantly more generous than others - and therefore happier. According to researchers, generous behavior and happiness are linked in our brain.

Giving makes you happy
Generosity makes people happier. People who act out of pure self-interest are less happy. It is of secondary importance how generous you behave. Even the firm promise to be more generous triggers a change in the brain that makes us happier. Researchers from the Universities of Lübeck and Zurich and the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago found this out in a study.

Increased happiness
Some people are amazingly generous; they like to give gifts to others, help with moving, or water the flowers when someone is on vacation.

Generous behavior is always associated with costs; you have to invest time or money to benefit others. One possible motivation that drives us to be generous towards others is an increase in our own happiness.

Several studies have shown that subjects who behaved generously towards others subsequently report an increased feeling of happiness.

"This feeling of happiness through a good deed is also referred to as 'warm glow', which can be translated as 'comforting feeling' in German," explains Prof. Dr. Soyoung Park, first author of the study in a communication from the University of Lübeck.

Do something good
Exactly how it happens that we feel happier when we have done something good to others has not been known yet. The scientists investigated this question with the help of a functional magnetic resonance imaging study (fMRI).

Their goal was to find out whether - and if so how - generous behavior and happiness are combined in our brains.

At the beginning of the experiment carried out in Switzerland, the 50 subjects were awarded a sum of money - 25 Swiss francs (about 23 euros) - which they would receive and should spend in the next few weeks.

Half of the subjects committed to spending the money on a person they knew, for example by giving them a gift. The other half (control group) committed to use the money for themselves.

Depending on generosity and happiness
The participants did not really get the money. Immediately after their promise, they were asked to participate in another investigation.

They were asked unprepared to perform an independent task in the fMRI scanner. During this task, they had to make decisions that varied according to their level of generosity and the costs involved.

At the very beginning and at the end of the study, they were also asked how happy the test subjects felt. This enabled the researchers to record changes in brain activity that depend on generosity and happiness.

The results of the investigation have now been published in the journal "Nature Communications".

Activity in different brain areas examined
While the subjects made their decision for or against generous behavior, the activity was examined in three brain areas. Depending on whether the participants had committed to generosity or selfishness, these areas interacted differently.

The participants in the test group often made generous decisions compared to the control group. In addition, the test group stated after the task that they were happier than the control group.

"We were therefore able to confirm that there is a connection between generous behavior and feelings of happiness", summarizes Prof. Soyoung Park from the University of Lübeck.

Generic behavior therefore seems to be linked to feelings of happiness in the brain and thus possibly driven.

Strategy for happiness
"It is remarkable that the mere intention creates a neuronal change before it is actually implemented," explains Philippe Tobler from the University of Zurich in a message.

"A communicated promise of generous behavior could be used as a strategy to reinforce the desired behavior on the one hand and to simply feel happier on the other," says Tobler.

According to the park, however, "there are still some questions to be answered or to be explored". For example, whether the effect persists "if it is used deliberately". (ad)

Author and source information

Video: The Science of Giving (May 2022).


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