One thing we share as humans is a desire for satisfaction in life. To be stated plainly, the majority of people (at some level) seek out behaviors that make them happier. What if I told you there was scientific research behind what makes our brains feel happiness? It’d be easier to make decisions that might lead us to the satisfaction we seek in life, right? Well, Merry Christmas - pick up a copy of Catherine Sanderson’s fabulous new book The Positive Shift.
Professor Sanderson has spent thousands of hours researching and speaking about the science of happiness. One chapter from her book describes the impact giving has on our overall happiness. It seems simple, taking time out of our day to give back generally makes us feel better. Maybe you smile to yourself as you hold the elevator for someone (that's more than a few steps behind you) or get an attitude boost volunteering with a non-profit organization. Either way, giving back makes a difference in our overall happiness. Here are a few scientific things I learned about giving:
Giving Money Counts
Professor Sanderson provides examples of different research studies that examine the impact of giving. Prosocial giving can directly impact happiness, or in layman's terms, giving money to a good cause can make us feel better. Generally speaking, I think we’d all be happier if we chose to give our extra $5 to an initiative that provides children with shoes rather than spending it on a Dutch Bros coffee. But that’s a choice we all have to make on our own.
Giving Time Counts Too
What about the impact of giving time? Sanderson references a national survey conducted by SJH McCann that measured “the link between neuroticism - respondents’ level of depression, anxiety and tension - and volunteerism. States with the highest rates of volunteerism (...) are all in the top ten least neurotic states. On the other hand, states in which residents are more neurotic have lower rates of volunteerism.” Researchers see trends in data that support the idea that volunteering can promote happiness and relieve depression, anxiety and tension. Who knew!?
Giving Feels Good
How can we scientifically prove that something makes us feel good? A study measuring the impact of charitable decisions, mentioned in Sanderson’s book, used an fMRI machine to look at brain activity. This study measured the brain activity of participants thinking about receiving a gift themselves verses thinking about giving to others. “Merely thinking about giving to others activate[s] a part of the brain that processes rewarding experiences. (...) In contrast, receiving money for ourselves results in lower levels of brain activation, suggesting giving to others does in fact feel better than getting something for ourselves.”
Giving is Good For Our Health
There is a direct link to those who give and increases in good health. Things like experiencing less stress, reports of lower blood pressure and even living longer have all been tied back to volunteering. Science proves this stuff - I’m not making it up! There is research in the book to back it.
The signs all point in the same direction, the benefits of volunteering seem to outweigh the risks. Don’t get me wrong, it can be hard to find time or money with all that life throws at us. However, if you’re interested in making an impact in the community and also helping yourself at the same time - volunteering might be a good avenue to check out. Challenge yourself to give back in some way this month. I don’t think you’ll regret it!