What’s So Great About Giving?

The researchers found that brain activity associated with happiness, along with self-reported happiness, increased simply after making a commitment to be generous to others. Happiness and happiness-related brain activity also went up when actually giving, the research team found, and left givers in a happier overall state than those who acted selfishly. Interestingly, relatively small acts of giving gave rise to just as big a happiness bump as bigger acts, the investigators said.*

Have you ever noticed how incredible it can feel to give? I have…years ago when I was drilling nails to build a child’s bedroom with Habitat for Humanity, a bedroom that kid might not have otherwise had. Not sure whether these Swiss researchers looked into how long the happiness bump lasts, but I can tell you mine has been around for decades. Every time I think of it I get that rush.

So they are right about just the thought of it. It will be a few weeks before my hospice volunteer work actually begins and, here again, just the thought of giving to another that way makes me feel good all over.

The ‘feel good all over’ that goes off in the brain when we give encourages us to do more of it, just like eating and, well you know, feel good to encourage us to do more of that too. Back in the day reputation mattered. Still does. It is speculated that givers appeared more trustworthy than takers, resulting in greater control over resources (or at least access to food and safety) with which to survive and to thrive. Doing well by doing good is what we would call it today.

We all want to be seen as good, and we feel happy when we are. In my Organizational Politics workshop, virtually every participant peeled down on our 5 Why’s exercise to being fundamentally driven by a deep desire to be seen as a good person. Makes us feel good.

Yeh but…what if the giving is obviously to get. What if, let’s say, a husband is stingy with his wife where no one can see, but an uber generous big tipper, big donator out in the world where everyone can. Or what if a woman sits on a variety of non profit boards, but is rarely home for her children, and rude to her employees. More about ‘looking good’ than being and doing good we might say.

Maybe you know people like this. And maybe you don’t like them, so not sure about the happiness bump for them. In fact, one such person** told me that, despite his most generous public persona, deep down he felt like a “wretched soul.” So the self cannot be fooled for long. Even if everyone else can, no real happiness for him.

Another woman I know** said she believes people only feel like giving when they are already happy, as in cup runneth over, so why not. To this I added my own yeh but…telling her what she said makes sense too but, if the research is right on what’s so great about giving, isn’t when we are feeling down a really great time to give. Look at all the happiness we can kick into motion for ourselves and others to help make the world we live in a better place.

She thanked me for this, which brings us to gratitude. There is plenty of research linking gratitude and happiness. And what is gratitude, after all, if not a form of giving itself. Giving thanks, that is. But don’t take their word for it, nor mine. Test it out yourself and let me know what you find.

So, for example, instead of spending on yourself, spend on someone else instead to see how that feels. Just a test. And remember, it doesn’t even have to be big. Something as small as offering a smile, or holding a door…could tell you all you need to know. Or something else you might like to try. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Givers Really Are Happier Than Takers. MedLIne. Tuesday, August 15, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_167833.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.







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