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Givers really are happier than takers

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They found that even small acts of generosity — or just promising to be charitable — triggered brain changes that make people happier. The findings were published recently in the journal Nature Communications.

*‘Even small acts of generosity trigger brain boost’

Generosity really is its own reward, with the brain seemingly hardwired for happiness in response to giving, new research suggests. Scientists in Switzerland used brain scans to track activity in brain regions associated with socializing, decision-making and happiness.

They found that even small acts of generosity — or just promising to be charitable — triggered brain changes that make people happier. The findings were published recently in the journal Nature Communications.

“The findings mean that spending money on others rather than on oneself could be an alternative road to happiness,” said study author Philippe Tobler. He’s a neuro-economist at the University of Zurich’s laboratory for social and neural systems research.

As for why this might be, Tobler pointed to an age-old concept: What goes around comes around. “Helping others could increase group cohesion, and others may help the original helper in return,” he said. Therefore, “helping others and being generous could eventually be beneficial also for the helper,” he added.

Kit Yarrow is a professor emeritus of consumer psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Commenting on the study, she said the overall findings were “not surprising at all. “We, as humans, function best when we feel connected to each other,” explained Yarrow. “We’re designed to respond empathically to each other, and for our self-interest to be balanced by protection of the greater good. In other words, we’re pre-wired to receive pleasure from helping others, which includes generosity.”

To explore the subject, the study team enlisted 50 Swiss residents. The researchers told them they would each receive 25 Swiss francs (a little more than $26 U.S.) weekly over the coming month.


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