The science of generosity: Why go-givers, not go-getters, are more successful


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

For years, we’ve been hearing the old wisdom that true happiness lies in helping others. The point is driven home year after year and starts really early too. Usually from the very first slice of a shared birthday cake.

But is there any deeper truth to this belief? There is.

Now this claim is also backed by science. Compelling data found by several researches done on the subject found that there is a strong connection between lasting happiness, personal growth and giving. Altruism is pleasurable and it’s hardwired into our brains. Giving comes more naturally to human beings than anything else. Scientists also believe that Altruism releases endorphins in the brain, producing positive feelings known as the ‘helper’s high’.

In fact, giving and sharing may also be the secret to living a life that’s healthier, wealthier, more productive and meaningful.

Success guru, author and philanthropist Tony Robbins, says, “Give what you think you cannot give.” A study by Harvard Business School Professor Norton and colleagues showed that giving money to others lifted participants’ spirits even though the participants thought they would feel happier spending it on themselves.

Another study by Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that giving activates regions of the brain that are related to social connection, trust and pleasure, creating a warm glow effect.


Promotes physical and mental health

Generosity is linked with overall well-being. People who regularly volunteer for good causes have better mental and physical health. Interestingly, it’s found that the benefits of volunteering outweigh those of taking up exercise, attending religious services or even giving up smoking!

Yet another study found that when people were given a sum of money, they gained greater wellbeing if they spent it on other people or gave it away for good causes rather than spending it on themselves. The habit of giving also creates a powerful sense of connection with others, heightened empathy and increased compassion.

Another research by Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson shows that money brings happiness when you spend it on experiences, rather than material goods.

On this note, I suggest that you experiment with this for 30 days. Instead of buying expensive and unnecessary things for yourself, give money to people in need, spend time volunteering and be kind to those around you. Do it consciously, choose this every day and you will see a tremendously positive change in the way you feel after these 30 days are over.

Giving increases gratitude

It doesn’t matter whether you are on the giving or the receiving end of a gift, it evokes feelings of gratitude in both the giver and the taker. As the helper, you will realize just how many bounties of life you have been bestowed – most of which we never count.

A growing body of research proves the immediate effects of gratitude on health and happiness levels. A Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness led by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough found that teaching college students to count their blessings and cultivate a habit of thankfulness caused them to feel great about their lives.

Another recent study by Nathaniel Lambert at the Florida State University found that expressing feelings of gratitude to a loved one increases our feelings of connection with that person. Experts also recommend keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ and making 2-3 entries daily. This simple, 10-minute ritual can immediately improve your mood and consequently your day.

Gratitude hardwires the brain to look at things differently. Where we are generally counting all the negative elements that happen to us every day, an attitude of gratitude gives people the flexibility to see and thus respond to external stimulus differently than those who aren’t thankful.

Generosity makes us human

As human beings, we are inherently social. Our species have survived and thrived because we took care of one another. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that generosity is then, a survival instinct. Even sharing food, shelter and love with others is intrinsic to who were are as humans.

If we were selfish at our very core – our species would have become extinct long ago. It is by giving to one another that we have survived for so long and there’s still a long way to go and a lot to learn. We also strongly believe that giving increases not just your happiness levels, but also your wealth.

Call it karma or something else, but the time and money you spend helping others or giving money away always come back multiplied many times over.

Thinking of all the times you’ve helped someone makes you feel selfless and wanting to help others even more, compared to remembering the times you were on the receiving end of favors, a 2012 Psychological Science study concludes.

In other words, remembering your generous, selfless acts allow more of those in you. Isn’t that great?

Believe me, your giving is so much more than a year-end chore. You might be altering the course of someone’s life right now. You might be in the process of leaving a huge impact on the way a child looks at the world. You could be a breath of fresh air for someone with a terminal illness. And in the process, you are doing yourself a huge favor too.

Have you felt the impact of what it’s like for those on the receiving end of generosity? What did you feel? I would love to hear your stories!


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