We tend to fall into the trap of wanting more. This is because we believe that getting things brings us happiness. Got 93% on your exam? You need to aim higher. Got promoted in 6 months? Why not 3? Got 1 million followers on Instagram? You definitely need more.
What if I tell you that giving can also make you happy? In some specific cases, giving can even bring you more happiness than receiving. This is powerful stuff, because it makes giving a win-win situation. You can make someone else happier by giving something, and if you do it right, the act of giving can also bring happiness to yourself.
This article is all about real examples and studies on how giving can make you happy. In which cases does giving increase your happiness?
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
How giving makes me happier (a personal example)
There were plenty of hopeless moments in my life; times when I felt an invisible cloud constantly pouring rain on all my efforts.
At some point, I began to spend time with terminally ill children at a non-profit organization. I started volunteering there thinking that I was making the little souls feel a little better. The truth is, they made me feel so much better about myself.
The more I did for the people around me, the happier I felt. It reduced my stress by shifting my focus on the happiness of others. It also helped me build new connections while strengthening the old ones. The more I gave to people without exhausting myself, the happier I felt about.
In the words of Booker T. Washington:
“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”Booker T. Washington
Several scientific studies agree as well. Let’s have a look at a few of the studies that confirm the notion that giving can indeed make you happy.
Research on how giving leads to happiness
A 2018 study carried out by Ed O’Brien and Samantha Kassirer discovered that long-term happiness comes from giving to people. A series of experiments were conducted to unearth which led to more happiness – giving or receiving.
In one of these experiments, around a hundred participants were given 5 dollars every day for five days. They were asked to either spend it on themselves or others. But the condition was – they had to spend it on the same thing every day. What would you have done?
Different participants spent the money in different ways. The result showed that the participants who spent it on others instead of themselves experienced more happiness. In contrast, those who spent it on themselves experienced a decline in their happiness.
In another experiment, around 500 participants played 10 rounds of a word-puzzle game. In each round, they could win 5 cents. They could either keep it or donate it. Afterward, they had to note down their level of happiness.
The outcome revealed that those who donated their winnings were happier compared to those who kept their winnings for themselves.
The results from both experiments displayed a similar pattern. They proved that happiness did not decline for people giving things to others. In fact, happiness only increased for the people who decided to give rather than receive.
Professor Ed O’Brien had remarkably summed it up in the following words:
“Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it.”Ed O’Brien
Another series of studies by Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn had similar results. More than 600 people were interviewed in one of the studies. They were asked questions to find out how much they made, how much they spent, and how happy they were.
It was again discovered that people who spent more on others felt happier than those who spent it on themselves. The studies showed that the amount of money given hardly had an impact. What mattered is the intention behind it.
Tips on how giving to others can make you happier
Realizing why giving makes you happy is important. The next step is learning how to give. As discussed at the start of this article, giving makes you happy in certain situations. In other words, giving doesn’t always have a positive effect on your happiness.
Not being able to give in the right way can often make you feel depleted, rather than delighted. Here are some tips that have helped me in my journey of giving without expecting anything in return.
1. Be passionate about giving
No work or activity can bring you happiness unless you are passionate about it. This is why you have to enjoy giving instead of forcing yourself to do so. You must realize that the effort you put into giving is extremely important. It isn’t about the number of gifts or the amount of money. It is about your passion and intention.
When you decide to give, ask yourself – what’s the best thing I can do for that person? For instance, I love making handcrafted gifts. I love giving these to my family, friends, colleagues, and local charities. The process of making these with my own hands is what gives me pure joy. If someone forces me to give store-bought items to others, I might not feel the same happiness. You have to find out what you are passionate about and give to others with the same passion.
As Kahlil Gibran had once said:
“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”Kahlil Gibran
2. Know the value of time
Giving is not just about money, charity, or material gifts. The most precious gift is still the gift of time.
You can use your time to bake a cake for a colleague’s birthday.
You can use your time to read your nephew or niece a bedtime story.
You can use your time to volunteer at an orphanage.
There are many ways you can use your time to make others feel happy. When you give the gift of time to people, you leave a positive impact on their minds and their lives.
Spending time with others also helps you to find the little joys of life. Human connections can make us happy and content. Perhaps this is why people want to spend more time with their loved ones as they grow older. True happiness is often found in spending time with others and making them feel loved and cared for.
3. Find the right fit for yourself
Before you start giving, ask yourself – what am I giving, who am I giving this to and why am I giving this. The answers must satisfy you before you move on to the next step.
Find charities or organizations that you want to donate in. Find causes that you believe in. Don’t force yourself to donate due to peer pressure. We are often stopped by volunteer fundraisers on the streets. If you donate to them without believing in their causes, you might be unable to feel genuine happiness. This is because giving makes you happy when it’s a result of your own generosity, not someone else’s guilt-tripping.
Also, try not to expect anything in return. If you’re giving something and expect something in return afterwards, chances are you’re going to be disappointed. If you don’t expect anything in return, you don’t create expectations that could eventually result in unhappy feelings.
Try to avoid such cases and make an effort to find the right way of giving for yourself. Only then will you be able to discover true happiness through giving.
To sum it up, I love this quote by Mary Anne Radmacher:
“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.”Mary Anne Radmacher
Giving can make you happy. But you have to be passionate about it and find the perfect way to give for yourself. The good news is, anyone can do it. You only have to start. Just keep your intentions pure and try to be helpful.
An introvert at heart and a nerd by birth. Clocks in as a strategic planner. Breathes as a writer with a decade of experience. Loves picking positivity and happiness over pomp and haste.