Generosity Makes You Happier

Posted on July 17, 2017

Research has found links between acts of selflessness and happiness. The act of giving was found to activate a part of the brain associated with contentment and reward.

Acts of generosity has been known to increase happiness and emotional well-being, giving people a feeling known as a “warm glow”. However, no study had investigated what mechanism causes the link between altruism and happiness. A study conducted by Profs Phillipe Tobler and Ernst Fehr, from the University of Zurich, and international researchers aimed to find out what happens in the brain when deciding whether to perform a generous act.

Previous studies had found that altruism and the act of charity links to activity in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). This is the area where the parietal and temporal lobes meet. Happiness is linked to ventral striatum activation, which has been found to be involved in the reward system of the brain. Thus, this area is responsible for the feeling of satisfaction after performing an enjoyable activity. The researchers tested for possible interactions between the two brain regions when people are being generous.

Participants were randomly assigned to two equal groups. Both groups were given a sum of money weekly for 4 weeks. The first group required members to make a public pledge of generosity. The second group was told to use the money for themselves. Participants then performed tasks while undergoing functional MRI (fMRI). They were asked to choose whether they would gift someone money, an act of generosity. The cost of this generosity was shown to the participants along the total value of the gift.

The results found that participants who performed, or were willing to perform generous acts, felt happier after the experiment - no matter how small the act was. The study also found an interaction between the TPJ and ventral striatum, along with the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain area associated with decision-making. The researchers suggest that these results may provide ways of increasing generosity but acknowledged that many areas remain unexplored.

Category(s):Positive Psychology

Source material from Medical News Today

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