The Extraordinary Happiness of Heartfelt Giving

The happiness of giving isn't limited to giving money. Happy people give of their time, their skills, their labor, their expertise and wisdom.

Heart in HandsHappy people love to give.  They give of their time, their skills, their labor, their expertise and wisdom.  They give emotional support and acts of kindness.  They give material goods and money.   But whatever they give, say happiness researches Foster and Hicks,  they share one trait in common: They give from the heart.

The Science of Giving

Happy people give without expectation of return or reward.  But the reward is inherent in the act of giving itself.  Dr. Timothy Sharp from The Happiness Institute quoted a study on his blog last Christmas that took place at the University of Oregon.   The people who took part in the study were given $100.  Then they were shown scenarios in which they contributed to charity and their brains lit right up.  Giving makes us feel happy.  It’s a gift we give ourselves.

A study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and two of his colleagues from the University of British Columbia, Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin, bears the University of Oregon study out.  They found that giving as little as $5.00 per day to others produces happiness in the giver.   Their overall research showed that the percentage of one’s earnings that one spends prosocially—whether through gifts to individuals or to charities—is the predictor of happiness.  The more one gives, the happier he is.

Giving is Empathy in Action

But the happiness of giving is hardly limited to giving money.  Happy people, say Foster and Hicks, practice giving across the whole economic spectrum.  They share their smiles and their joy; they listen, thank and appreciate.

The bottom line is that giving is a generosity of spirit, rooted in giving ourselves as a caring response to others’ needs.

Giving might take the form of volunteering, or of helping your spouse with washing dishes or cleaning out the garage.  It might mean devoting time to playing with your children, or running errands for a homebound neighbor or friend.

It might be an appreciative comment to a harried store clerk or waitress, or giving your seat to someone on a bus.

The trait of giving is labeled “generativity”—being generous—by psychologist and researcher Paul Wink of Wellesley College.  He’s overseeing the longest-running social science studies of our time and has co-authored In the Course of a Lifetime that describes the study’s findings.

One of the key points he’s discovered is that generativity leads to a beautiful, long and healthy life.

People who are generous, he says, are empathic and warm; they relate to the suffering of others, want to help, and believe they can make a difference.   They reach out with acts of kindness and support.  And their giving provides them, in return, with a long-lasting protective effect on both their mental and physical health.

Giving is a Sign of Self-Worth

Both the Foster and Hicks study and the findings of Paul Wink describe giving people as people who have a strong sense of self-worth and personal value that they want others to share in as well.

Wink sees generativity as a spiritual trait, reflecting “a strong, self-expansive focus on making creative contributions that will affect others and endure beyond their lifetimes.”   Spiritually buy modafinil com motivated people want to have a positive impact on others and to pass on their skills and knowledge.

Small Acts, Big Rewards:  Keeping a Kindness Log

You can prove to yourself how rewarding giving is by keeping a kindness log.

Positive psychology expert Dr. Barbara Fredrickson found that people who kept track of the way they expressed their generosity in acts of kindness saw their positivity rise considerably.

They noted every little thing they did that was an act of giving themselves to others.  Keeping track made them more aware of opportunities to make a difference in others’ lives, and the resulting good feelings from giving their personal energy, time and helpfulness motivated them to be more generous still.

If you want to give your own happiness level an extraordinary boost, be mindful of ways that you can give to others.   Keep a written log for a day or two.  See what happens.

Then come back here and share your experiences, would you?  Encouraging others with your comments is, after all, yet another way to give.