“For it is in giving that we receive.”
– Francis of Assisi
You might be surprised to learn that gift givers derive more pleasure from the act of giving than the recipients do from getting the gift. Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School conducted a series of studies which confirmed this fact, in spite of participants thinking the opposite would occur.
In one such study, students were given $20 to spend on themselves or on other people, in the form of a donation or charity. Those who spent money on others reported feeling happier at the end of the day, while those who spent the money on themselves reported no change.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to the US, either. Professor Norton and Gallup conducted a poll spanning 136 countries wherein they found that 90% of those who gave to charity reported being happier than those who didn’t.
These findings point to interesting implications with regard to prosocial behavior, that we’re actually biologically designed to benefit from giving. In fact, there are some marvelous things that happen in our brains when we give. A 2006 study by Jorge Moll of the National Institutes of Health found that the act of giving to charities triggers portions of our brain related to pleasure, trust, and more — effects that last long after the act itself. Endorphins and oxytocin are also released, these being feel-good chemicals that increase our happiness and sense of connection.
These effects of giving seem to extend beyond the act of giving, as well. In The Healing Power of Doing Good, author Allan Luks surveyed 3,000 regular volunteers who described having a “helpers high” akin to a “runners high” after volunteering, which led to a euphoric feeling of calm. But perhaps more intriguing than this “helper’s high” is a study that found regular volunteer work decreased elderly population’s risk of mortality. The one caveat is that giving time with a sense of purpose is essential for these positive effects — to feel like you are truly helping other people.
For all the above reasons it makes so much sense why our charity team building programs, like Buildin’ Bikes and Golf for Goodness Sake are so popular. They’re not only incredibly fun, but when you see the kids’ faces light up after receiving their newly donated bike, or hear from a food bank volunteer how much the food donation means to their organization, you just get it. Giving feels great, and it begets more giving. It’s a viciously rewarding cycle.
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