Published Sunday 16 July 2017
By Maria Cohut
Researchers have found a connection between happiness and the performance of selfless acts. Giving to others, they say, activates an area of the brain linked with contentment and the reward cycle.
Researchers have found a strong link between performing generous acts and personal happiness.It has long been acknowledged that acts of generosity raise levels of happiness and emotional well-being, giving charitable people a pleasant feeling known, in behavioral economics, as a "warm glow." But so far, no studies have investigated the mechanics behind the correlation between altruism and happiness.
Recently, Profs. Phillipe Tobler and Ernst Fehr, both from the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich (UZH) in Switzerland - in collaboration with other international researchers - conducted a study aiming to gain a better understanding of what goes on inside a person's brain when they decide whether or not to perform a generous act.
The decision to give makes us happier
Forty-eight people participated in this study, all of whom were allocated a sum of money on a weekly basis for 4 weeks. The participants were also randomly split into two equal groups. One group constituted the experimental strand, and its members were assigned to perform acts of generosity toward others. They were asked to make a public pledge to be generous, thus ensuring their commitment to the idea. The other group was the control group, whose members were told to spend the money on themselves. All participants were asked to report their level of happiness both at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. After making the public pledge, all the participants were asked to perform certain tasks while undergoing fMRI. They were prompted to make choices related to generous behavior by deciding whether or not they would offer a gift of money to someone.
Each time, a cost to themselves was also specified alongside the total value of the gift. Both the value of the gift and the size of the cost varied.
It was found that participants in the experimental group were likelier to choose the gifts most beneficial to others that came at a larger cost to themselves - that is, they were more charitable and self-sacrificing than the participants in the control group.
It was also found that all participants who had performed, or had been willing to perform, an act of generosity - no matter how small - viewed themselves as happier at the end of the experiment.