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Generosity Pays Dividends in Happiness

Study show even slightly generous people are happier than self-centered people.

Would you be surprised to learn that people who are generous are happier than those who aren’t? Well according to researchers at the University of Zurich, generosity appears to connect to living a happier life.

Here’s how the research went: 50 volunteers were divided into two groups and were told they would be given a modest amount of money. One group was told to spend the money on themselves and the other group was asked to give a gift of some money to someone they knew.

As each person in both groups were deciding how to spend the money the researchers measured the brain activity of the person in three areas of the brain: one area where prosocial behavior and generosity are processed; another area (in the ventral striatum), which is related to happiness; and (in the orbitofrontal cortex), where cost/benefits are evaluated in the decision-making processes. After the measurements were made the subjects were asked to rate their happiness before and after the experiment.

The results showed that those people who were generous in their gifting reported being happier than before the experiment began. Also, they reported greater happiness than the control group who intended to spend the money on themselves.

As reported in Science News, the lead researcher, Philippe Tobler said, "You don't need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice."

I think many people have the experience of pleasure and happiness in holiday seasons, from Valentine's Day to Christmas, through giving gifts to their family and friends. While the experiment involved money, we know that generosity can also involve giving one’s time, items hand-made, food, or other resources. Having a bias toward generosity can help move you the in direction toward great happiness. How’s your “generosity meter?”


Soyoung Q. Park, Thorsten Kahnt, Azade Dogan, Sabrina Strang, Ernst Fehr, Philippe N. Tobler. A neural link between generosity and happiness. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 15964 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15964