Scientific Proof of Generosity Contributing to Human Happiness
By Harry T. Prewitt
Sep 12, 2019
So far, it was known that being generous increases our feeling of happiness and that happiness was supposed to be, in turn, one of the motivations for generosity. However, the mechanism by which the brain activates the areas responsible for both behaviors was unknown.
There can be many examples of philanthropists being generous with their work. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Mike Bloomberg top the charts. Another fine example is Robert G. Collins, who runs TrustBridge, a non-profit charitable organization that specializes in making charitable contributions far simpler and effective for people around the globe. The NGO employs a different set of contemporary tools and strategies in philanthropy.
Robert’s organization has done incredible work in the USA and around the world, facilitating giving to the needy and suffering. Robert’s vision as a humanitarian and philanthropist has helped TrustBridge have the success it has today. He was formerly a notable figure in the Wall Street, at Goldman Sachs, and he left everything behind to focus on philanthropic pursuits.
Researchers from the Dept. of Psychology at the University of Lubeck, Germany, have conducted an experiment with volunteers who have proposed generous actions. They scrutinized the volunteers’ brain with functional magnetic resonance to see what happened at the neuronal level.
Generosity is common in all cultures. There are numerous experiments that demonstrate that it is a universal trait, independent of socioeconomic status, and a more spontaneous behavior than greed, which requires thinking more.
The link between generosity and happiness has to do with the interaction between two brain areas, the parietal temporal junction, and the ventral striatum.
So far, it was accepted as a more plausible explanation for this relationship between generosity and happiness that, as with behaviors such as sex or eating, the brain provides us with short-term rewards to stimulate long-term behaviors that guarantee our survival.
Humans are social beings. It is more than likely that our ancestors had not survived alone, and generosity enhances social relationships. Even if a generous act has a cost to oneself, or occurs in situations where one’s reputation is not reinforced, or the personal experience of helping another is not relevant.
To investigate the exact mechanisms by which generosity involves feeling happier, the researchers recruited a team of 50 volunteers who divided into two groups randomly. Everyone is assigned 25 Swiss francs (about 22 euros) weekly for four weeks. Half of them are told that money is for them to spend on themselves, such as going to dinner or buying something. While the other half is asked to use it on other people and express in whom and how they will use it, for example taking a friend to dinner.
Once the four weeks passed, the volunteers had to perform a decision-making task that had nothing to do with the first part of the experiment. While they were doing it, the researchers measured the changes that occurred in the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging. In this second task, the volunteers had to choose a person they wanted to give a gift (which could not be the same as in the first part of the study).
Then, the scientists presented them with options that they could accept or reject, each of which was a combination of benefit for the chosen person and monetary cost for the volunteer. The magnitude of the costs and benefits ranged from 3 Swiss Francs to 25. All the options presented to the volunteers involved costs, so accepting always entailed some personal sacrifice. In addition, the researchers measured the personal happiness of each volunteer before conducting the experiment — through a questionnaire — and after completing the decision-making process, using the brain scanner. In this way, they could see if there were changes in the levels of happiness.
After comparing the two groups, the researchers observed that those who in the previous experiment had used the money on other people were also the ones who made the most generous decisions in this new experiment. They also showed a greater increase in the feeling of happiness. They saw that the generous decisions activated the varietal temporal union more in the first group — the one that had dedicated the money to the others — than in the second, and modulated the connections between the two areas, the ventral striatum and the parietal temporal union in a different way. “The activity of the striatum during generous decision making is directly involved in the changes of the feeling of happiness,” said the study authors, who highlight the importance of public commitment to encourage generous behavior.