Helping others makes you happier and it appears to be physical not just psychological. These are the conclusions of a study, published in Nature Communications, that looked at the brains of participants who either behaved selflessly or selfishly.1
Scientists at the University of Zurich not only discovered that generosity makes people happier but, even more intriguing… they found that simply promising to be generous, makes you happier. And, there’s more… even if you are only a little generous, apparently, you still get happy! The neuroeconomists found that generosity triggers some kind of change in our brains that puts a smile on our face.
This is probably not news to many who have long known that doing something nice for another, gives one that warm, fuzzy feeling inside and now it’s been confirmed by science.
In collaboration with international researchers, Philippe Tobler and Ernst Fehr from the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich, investigated how our brain responds to the relationship between giving unconditionally and happiness:
“In their experiments, the researchers found that people who behaved generously were happier afterwards than those who behaved more selfishly. However, the amount of generosity did not influence the increase in contentment. “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” says Philippe Tobler.” 2
Even more fascinating, the researchers found that participant’s brain areas “talked” to one another quite differently when just promising to be more generous– “It is remarkable that intent alone generates a neural change before the action is actually implemented,” says Tobler. 2
“The research team looked at MRI scans of the participants’ brains and focused on three areas. The orbitofrontal cortex, where we consider a decision, the temporoparietal junction, where generous behavior is processed, and the ventral striatum, which is associated with happiness.” 3
“The three areas lit up differently in the scans depending on whether the participant was in the generous group or the selfish group. Just promising to be altruistic activated the temporoparietal junction and strengthened its connection to the ventral striatum. So, it appears, generosity led to happiness.” 3
The bigger question for these researchers now is: can they train and reinforce people’s brains to be more generous and thus happier and how long does this “happy” effect last? Absolutely! But, why not do your own little experiment? Start being nice to others and have the intention to listen and help and see if you are not a happier person!
- 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
- University of Zurich. “Generous people live happier lives.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 July 2017.
- Brain Scans Show Being Generous Really Does Make You Happier, IFLScience
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