SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

originalThe most comprehensive studies have shown that generous people are healthier, wealthier and happier than non-givers with identical factors. By using fMRI technology, researchers have concluded that charitable activity induces brain chemicals (endorphins) that produce a mild version of the sensations people get from food, sex, and drugs such morphine and heroin- but without negative side effects.

Many of us wish we were richer or had more time to be more generous. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. How much you give is not what matters, voluntarily giving anything to add value to some one is what counts. Some of us are afraid that giving something away it a total loss. It’s true that when we gave money away or devote our time, we would be losing something. But many don’t realize that we gain a lot more in return.

The researchers randomly assigned people into four groups that were to spend $5 on themselves, $20 on themselves, $5 on others or $20 on others. Those who spent $5 or $20 on others reported being much happier while those that spent money on themselves showed no change in happiness. The dynamics of generosity, there fore, are such that givers must cross an important threshold from their most comfortable or the most intimate and helping “the other,”. Also of note, the group that gave away $5 was just as happy as the group that had $20 to give away showing that happiness in giving can be more about the how as opposed to the how much.

Science has proven beyond doubt, that which the bible said many centuries ago, that participating in helping others, such as volunteering to help children or serving meals to the poor has a strong, positive causal impact on our happiness and excellent health. According to an experiment at Duke University, a compassionate act with no expectation of a reciprocity – such as giving massages to babies — lowers the stress hormones that cause unhappiness. For relief from stress and depression, charity’s probably more cost-effective than whatever your doctor might prescribe.

Generosity is, in part, a survival instinct. Humans are an inherently social species. We have survived and thrived because we take care of one another. If we were an overwhelmingly selfish species, we would’ve gone extinct a long time ago.

Charity is also a product of maturity. Kids are naturally selfish and love receiving gifts. As we grow older and more mature giving gifts becomes just as thrilling as receiving them. It takes mature mind to actually find the joy of making someone happy is more powerful than you could have possibly imagined. There’s something inexplicably satisfying in witnessing people unwrap a gift and respond with unadulterated amazement and happiness. You have made them smile, and that’s worth far more than money or any material item.

Jenny Santi [1] says it’s important to remember that giving doesn’t always feel great. The opposite could very well be true: Giving can make us feel depleted and taken advantage of. Here are some tips to that will help you give not until it hurts, but until it feels great:

1. Find your passion

Our passion should be the foundation for our giving. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving. It’s only natural that we will care about this and not so much about that, and that’s OK. It should not be simply a matter of choosing the right thing, but also a matter of choosing what is right for us.

2. Give your time

The gift of time is often more valuable to the receiver and more satisfying for the giver than the gift of money. We don’t all have the same amount of money, but we all do have time on our hands, and can give some of this time to help others—whether that means we devote our lifetimes to service, or just give a few hours each day or a few days a year.

3. Give to organizations with transparent aims and results

According to Harvard scientist Michael Norton, “Giving to a cause that specifies what they’re going to do with your money leads to more happiness than giving to an umbrella cause where you’re not so sure where your money is going.”

4. Find ways to integrate your interests and skills with the needs of others

“Selfless giving, in the absence of self-preservation instincts, easily becomes overwhelming,” says Adam Grant, author of Give & Take. It is important to be “otherish,” which he defines as being willing to give more than you receive, but still keeping your own interests in sight.

5. Be proactive, not reactive

We have all felt the dread that comes from being cajoled into giving, such as when friends ask us to donate to their fundraisers. In these cases, we are more likely to give to avoid humiliation rather than out of generosity and concern. This type of giving doesn’t lead to a warm glow feeling; more likely it will lead to resentment. Instead we should set aside time, think about our options, and find the best charity for our values.

6. Don’t be guilt-tripped into giving

I don’t want to discourage people from giving to good causes just because that doesn’t always cheer us up. If we gave only to get something back each time we gave, what a dreadful, opportunistic world this would be! Yet if we are feeling guilt-tripped into giving, chances are we will not be very committed over time to the cause.

7. Give Consistently

It has to be a practice, it has to be something that is sustained over time, that people engage with regularly. One-off things just don’t affect us that much, whereas things that we repeat, things that are sustained in our bodily behaviors and in our minds, have tremendous effects on us.

Altruism can be addictive. So for a lot of practices of generosity, even if we’re nervous about it, or unenthusiastic, if we just get going and start doing it, later we realize that was not too bad or that was enjoyable or we try it again. Giving an be addictive. The more we give the more likely are we to keep on giving until we become ‘addicted’. But love addiction, as the bible says, is fantastically harmless.

Now then, helping others is the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful. The key, though, is to find the approach that fits us. When we do, then the more we give, the more we stand to gain purpose, meaning and happiness—all of the things that we look for in life but are so hard to find.

“If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap. If you want happiness for a day—go fishing. If you want happiness for a month—get married. If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime—help others.” – Chinese Proverb.

In everything I did, I showed you that we must work hard and help the weak and the poor, in line with the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.‘ ” Acts 20:35

[1] Author of “The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories & Science Behind the Life –Changing Power of Giving.”

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