Today Is Giving Tuesday: 6 Reasons Why You Benefit

It really is better to give than to receive.

Posted Dec 03, 2019

used with permission from flickr.com
Source: used with permission from flickr.com

You’ve likely heard the adage that those who give get much more out of the experience of giving than those on the receiving end. It is a popular notion that has much truth behind it.

For example, I used to have a patient in my practice who was wealthy, elderly, and a retired professional who never married, had no children, and as an only child had no siblings, nieces, or nephews. His business and financial savvy and success provided him with more money than he could ever use.  He found ways to generously give his many resources to organizations that really needed it. He feels that he has gotten so much more out of the experience than he gave away even though his gifts were generous and impactful.

He’s not alone. In big ways or in small ways we get so much out of our giving behavior. There are a variety of reasons why this is true from a psychological standpoint.  Here are a few of them.

Efficacy. Giving to others helps us to feel that we have efficacy and agency. We can make a difference in someone’s life and that feels good to us.

Meaning.  Giving helps provide meaning and purpose to our lives. Helping others truly helps ourselves by making us feel that we have a purpose, a mission, a calling and that our efforts matter to others.  If our efforts matter then we matter.

Social Comparisons. Being around those who struggle more than we do (financially or otherwise) makes us feel better about our situation in comparison.  You feel smart, wealthy, generous, beautiful, and so forth when you are around others who do not share these attributes.

Ethics. We have likely been told by others throughout our lives that helping others is expected and good to do for moral and religious reasons. Helping those in need is a common theme in all of the great religious traditions. And we are expected to do so. For example, at the end of the famous Good Samaritan parable in the Gospel of Luke (10:37), Jesus states, “Go and do likewise.” 

Adaptive. Giving to others is adaptive in community living. As social animals, we survive as a species when we cooperate with others and care for those in need. Thus, from an evolutionary and sociobiological perspective, we are wired to help others within our community and to do so helps all of us survive and thrive.

Reinforcement. Giving to others makes us feel good most especially when we are thanked or reinforced in some way for doing so. Large donors may have their names on buildings or be able to control the mission of agencies and institutions while small donors are thanked personally or perhaps in a newsletter.  Either way, when we feel appreciated and reinforced for giving we are more likely to give again.

I work with a local homeless shelter where my students engage in community-based learning as part of their psychology courses. At this time of year, church groups like to feed the homeless. The staff at the shelter once told me that they really didn’t need all of these groups coming in during the holidays for a feel good experience but that they graciously allow them to do so to let them feel good about themselves. Yet, the church groups feel that they are the gift-givers in this situation, not the gift takers. Both the homeless shelter staff and the church groups feel good by gifting to the other.  A curious win-win.

Giving is good for us and our community. We should do it often.  We’ll be glad we did and better for it. 

So what do you think?

Copyright 2015 Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., ABPP