For it is in giving that we receive” — Saint Francis of Assisi

Yes, it is true. Not taking away the joy of receiving in any way. It is wonderful too, but research has shown that giving, more that receiving makes us feel happy.

Let’s take a closer look at the why:

Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of my favourite ‘happiness’ gurus, who as a psychology professor has conducted numerous research studies on happiness. Her findings highlights that when people give gifts, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. In other words, our brain associates giving with a positive experience that impacts our mood. Lyubomirsky also found that giving leads you to perceive others more positively as it amplifies a sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community. And a feeling of connection has been proven to not only improve our mental health but our overall physical health as well. Another important element of gift giving is that gifts can elicit feelings of gratitude, and gratitude is integral to happiness and well-being.

From a neurological framework, your brain is hardwired for altruism.

Through fMRI technology, scientists learned that giving activates the same parts of your brain that are stimulated by food and sex – it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure. Research studies have shown that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable. Have you ever felt the ‘helpers high’? Helping others may be a tool to live a life that is not only happier but also healthier, and meaningful.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis showed that when one person acts generously, it inspires and motivates observers to act generously later, toward different people. They found that altruism could spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. In other words, your generous act can influence hundreds of people, some of whom you do not know or have never met before.

So whether you start to give to improve connection to others, or give to enhance a sense of meaningfulness, or even as a distraction from your own problems or perhaps to increase your perception of self-efficacy it will also improve your mood, it is a win-win either way 🙂

Ideas for giving:

  • Volunteering your time.
  • Donate your unused stuff to someone in need (that extra blankets unused in the closet during winter).
  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Take extra lunch to work and share it with a colleague or friend.
  • Pick a flower from your garden to give to someone.
  • Write a note of gratitude to someone.
  • Send a friend a picture of a special memory you made together.

Giving is the key. You can decide what giving will look like for you.

HeyHappy wants to encourage you to take a minute now to consider in what way you can give a gift to someone! A happier mood state can be waiting for you on the other side!

written by Derika de Villiers, Clinical psychologist