There is a host of research that studies the science of giving to show how our health and happiness changes when we give. You already know that when you give someone something, or are kind to a person in some way, it makes you feel as good as them.
But lets talk about how giving helps to increase your happiness and your mental health scientifically? Several studies demonstrate how parts of the brain are activated by giving, how people who are ill themselves benefit from giving, and how giving can add years to your life.
A group of people at the National Institute of Health in the U.S. found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “Warm Glow” effect. This effect has been studied in other settings as well. The outcome of these studies is often how our acts of kindness are reflected in our biology. The “Warm Glow” effect has been studied by other scientists who generally agree that giving releases feel-good neurochemicals like oxytocin and endorphins. (Big Think, 2021)
Who would have thought that giving to others can increase health benefits for those with chronic illnesses, like HIV or multiple sclerosis. According to the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine says this is true. More specifically, a study out of the University of California, Berkeley, found that elderly volunteers who gave of their time to two or more organizations, were 44 % less likely to die over a five-year period than non-volunteers. A study from the University of Michigan said the same thing. It found that people that provided practical or emotional help to friends or family had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who didn’t.
Another study at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Tennesee, found that people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.
And giving promotes Social Connection. It’s a two-step process.
First, you get what you give. If you give to others, you will be rewarded. Sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer studied this theory and found that at some point, your gift will trigger someone to do something for you; maybe directly, maybe someone further removed.
The second step is that these back and forth exchanges strengthen our connections with others. And a lot of research shows that positive social ties are essential for good mental and physical health.
And finally, when you give, you encourage further giving – from yourself or others. Once you throw yourself into giving through daily kindnesses, or volunteering or financial help, it becomes easier to do more. And the endorphins and happiness you receive can be seen by others and can influence them to give.
Learning to give at an early age stays with us over our lifetime. As an example, think of the money that is given to universities. A lot of that money comes from Alumni, people who went to that university. Starting as students who volunteer, raise funds, and head up events, alumni go on to support their alma maters. They get used to giving to a cause they love at an early age and that love goes on throughout their lives.
Take this down a notch, from the elite philanthropy of universities, to a community literacy program. If you volunteer to a program when you’re in high school, you’ll be more likely to keep literacy as a cause on your radar – and give to this cause — throughout your life.
Curious about how our happiness increases when we give? The warm glow effect is one reaction we have to our daily giving, but there is more to understand when we look at how our mind reacts to giving. Check out our Happiness Research page and see how giving truly makes us happier and enhances our mental health.