Science just proved generous people tend to be the happiest people.
Good news for givers — the University of Zurich just proved that generosity makes people happier, even if they’re just a smidgen more generous than the average Joe. Even just making a verbal or mental commitment to be more generous triggers real brain chemical changes that result in true happiness. Neuroeconomists found this out in a recent study, but we’re pretty sure it’s nothing new for charity-minded readers.
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The act of caring for fellow humans gives people a sensation that behavioral economists refer to as a “warm glow.” The University of Zurich teamed up with researchers Philippe Tobler and Ernst Fehr and investigated how the brain produces, receives, and interacts with this feeling — and the results clearly point to altruism being the way to feeling happier.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the study was the finding that humans don’t need to be overwhelmingly generous to reap real happiness rewards. In fact, there’s no reason to give up your car or home or give away every hour in the day, but finding small ways to help others like helping an older relative do their grocery shopping, donating a week night to volunteer, or donating to a charity can do wonders for your sense of self-satisfaction.
“You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” says Philippe Tobler.
The researchers studied activity in three areas of the participants’ brains: in the temporoparietal junction (where prosocial behavior and generosity are received, filtered, and processed), in the ventral striatum (that’s your happiness area), and in the orbitofrontal cortex (where we make decisions about tasks and important life functions). All three areas exhibited different results depending on whether the study participants had committed to acts of altruism or selfishness.
“It is remarkable that intent alone generates a neural change before the action is actually implemented,” says Tobler.
While the study didn’t necessarily prove that selfish people tend to be unhappy, the fact that more generous people end up happier is enough for us to keep sharing smiles at the very least.
Source: Soyoung Q. Park, Thorsten Kahnt, Azade Dogan, Sabrina Strang, Ernst Fehr, and Philippe N. Tobler. Nature Communications. July 11, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15964
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