The Link Between Giving and Happiness

by Mike Veny Patient Advocate

You've surely heard the expression "It is better to give than to receive." But do you believe it? It's always nice to receive a lovely gift from someone, but study after study proves that there really is something to that old saying.

Society often tells us that we need to have more - more money, more toys, more everything - in order to be happy. But there is no proof that this does us any good. We end up working and striving to get more and more, and consequently feel miserable and defeated because, in reality, there's a link between giving and the happiness we seek.

"More" doesn't equal "happier"

While the statistics vary, it's safe to assume that about half the adults in the United States play the lottery. These people are hoping to hit it big so their lives will improve. They dream of how great everything will be when they have the money to live comfortably. But have you heard of "the curse of the lottery"? There are countless stories of lottery winners whose lives fell apart after coming into instant money. What they thought would make them happy ended up making them distressed and heartbroken.

Beckett University senior psychology lecturerSteve Taylor, Ph.D. writes, “Even extremely rich people — such as billionaires — are not significantly happier than others. Studies have shown that American and British people are less contented now than they were 50 years ago, although their material wealth is much higher.”

If you want to be happy in life, it has nothing to do with how much you have. On the contrary, it has to do with what you are willing to give. At the end of the article, Dr. Taylor mentions another study that found that, "When people were given a sum of money, they gained more well-being if they spent it on other people, or gave it away, rather than spending it on themselves." Why? Because it is, indeed, better to give than to receive.

Giving makes you happier

There is scientific proof showing a link in the brain between giving and happiness. One study sought to find out if the prospect of giving could make participants happier. Half the group was told they were receiving money that they needed to spend on someone else. The other half was told they were required to spend the money on themselves. Both groups were told to imagine how they were going to spend the money when they received it. After conducting MRI tests and multiple other tests to rule out any other contributing factors, the researchers determined that generosity improved the level of happiness in participants, regardless of the recipient or the amount of money.

Giving encourages you to change your focus

Seda Gragossian, Ph.D. of Talk Therapy Psychology Center says via email, “The key benefit of giving is that the individual turns away from their ego and focuses their energy and attention on someone other than themselves. Additionally, the act of giving forces one to focus on the present moment. I believe that’s where the benefits of giving come from.”

Being generous and giving to others helps us take our focus off ourselves and place it on someone else, which allows us to step back from our personal situations and enjoy being able to help. Giving is often a much-needed boost for self-esteem and self-worth.

This theory holds true whether you are giving money, gifts, or time. Volunteering your time is an efficient way to help deal with depression. You can see how you are needed and valued by others when you volunteer your time or skills. Knowing that you are contributing and making a difference can provide you with an instant boost in your mood. And you will be bettering a situation for someone else as well.

It's time to get intentional

There is an undeniable link between giving and happiness. If we want to be happy, we need to get to work being generous. When we only focus on our situation, we magnify our problems. The more we look at them, the more significant they become. When we turn our focus on other people, we take it off ourselves. We are able to see how we can be a blessing to someone else. It helps put our problems in perspective when we are intentionally giving to those less fortunate. Knowing that you helped someone else or you gave something that made someone else happy or more comfortable is going to make you feel better about yourself, which leads to happiness.

Try taking a brand-new wrapped toy to a child who might not otherwise receive any gifts. I assure you that you will feel much happier when you see the smile and joy on that child's face than if you had received a gift yourself. Giving is one of the keys to happiness. Test the theory, and see for yourself.

Mike Veny
Meet Our Writer
Mike Veny

Mental health speaker and best-selling author Mike Veny delivers engaging presentations with raw energy and a fresh perspective on diversity and inclusion. He shares how he went from struggling with mental health challenges to being a thought leader that travels the globe telling his story to help transform stigma. He is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, corporate drumming event facilitator, author, and luggage enthusiast. Seriously, you’d completely get it if you did all the traveling he did! Mike is the author of the book Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero. As a 2017 PM360 ELITE Award Winner, he is recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry for his work as a patient advocate.