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Be Generous, Do for Others: You’ll Be Happier

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Be Generous, Do for Others Blog

Be Generous, Do for Others: You’ll Be Happier

Will acts of kindness and generosity make us happier? Do heart-directed altruistic acts depend on the sincere intention behind them? When we act on behalf of other people, research shows we feel better and experience less stress.

Dr. J. Andrew Armour, a leading neuro¬cardiologist on HeartMath Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board, has found the heart contains cells that synthesize and release hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine, among others. It was discovered that the heart also secretes oxytocin, commonly referred to as the “love” or “bonding” hormone. Remarkably, concentrations of oxytocin produced in the heart may be as high as those produced by the brain. When you are altruistic – lending a helping hand – your oxytocin level goes up, which helps relieve your stress. Altruistic behavior also may trigger the brain’s reward circuitry – the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins. However, the hormonal benefits of the good deed depend on the genuine intent of the act of altruism.

Researchers Elizabeth W. Dunn, Lara B. Aknin and Michael I. Norton conducted an experiment in which they handed out envelopes to people. Each contained a five-dollar bill and a note. Some people were instructed to spend the money before 5 p.m. on a personal gift or for their regular expenses. Others’ were asked to spend it on a gift for someone else or donate it to charity. “Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn,” the authors wrote in an article abstract in Science magazine in 2008.

“Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. … Participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.”

The Gallup World Poll found similar results in a 2006-2008 survey conducted in 136 countries, according to an article in the Greater Good newsletter at the University of California. “In 120 out of 136 countries, people who donated to charity in the past month reported greater satisfaction with life. This relationship emerged in poor and rich countries alike. … The link between prosocial spending and happiness seems to be remarkably universal.” (The Greater Good newsletter is part of the university’s Greater Good Science Center.)

More than leading to greater happiness, generosity, or altruism also makes us feel better, and it’s not merely a psychological effect. For example, levels of oxytocin, the so-called love or bonding hormone in the human body, have been found to increase with pure/sincere acts of generosity, or altruism. This increase in oxytocin not only makes us feel good, it has been shown to also reduce stress.

Moreover, researchers say, altruistic behavior also may trigger the brain’s reward circuitry – the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endor¬phins. They note, however, that hormonal benefits of altruistic acts depend on sincere intention.

Stephen G. Post, president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, said he learned when he was a boy, about the power of giving.

“Sometimes,” Post said in his 2011 The Power of Giving, Compassion and Hope program at the Dalai Lama Center, “I’d have a boring, blue afternoon and my mother, with her kitchen-table wisdom, would always say, Stephen, why don’t you go out and do something for someone.”

When he did, he felt better, happier. “It always seemed to me self-evident,” Post said, “that one of the ways we can feel best about ourselves is by contributing in small ways to the lives of the people around us. As an unintended byproduct of generous behavior, we do experience joy, we do experience greater health and on average … we live even longer lives.” Multiple studies over the last two decades have borne out Post’s observations.

Volunteerism, another aspect of generosity and altruism, has received a great deal of focus by researchers, especially in the last decade. The result of volunteerism research has been fairly universal: People who volunteer are more often healthier, happier and live longer than those who don’t.

Do you know the personal benefits of helping others? The HeartMath Institute for many years has helped people learn to cultivate altruism through practice of its heart-focused techniques. These techniques help them to align themselves more fully with their core values and to activate greater care and compassion in their daily lives.

HeartMath’s own research has shown participants in experiments who practice these techniques have experienced beneficial changes in hormones that affect their health, happiness and longevity. Much like with its research on the benefits that come from positive emotions such as appreciation, compassion, care and kindness among others, HeartMath has found the following to be among the benefits of generosity and altruism:

  • Lower stress.
  • Improved emotional, physical mental and spiritual health.
  • Increased self-esteem and confidence.
  • Improved relationships.

Have you felt happier being generous? How has being generous – donating money or your time to help others – affected your life? If people were more giving, do you feel it would make things better in these troubled times?

  • Mark R. Bakwell

    Great article! Its amazing how science can validate Ancient Wisdom. We’ve all heard “You reap what you sow” Its such a simple yet powerful way to live.

  • carolindenver

    I’m pretty sure this is why I am involved id dog rescue. :>)

  • Ana

    Thanks for it!
    I want to ask something (I am sorry, my natal language is not english… I try to do my best):
    Some people give too much, they are very generous, preventing othersto give or take responsibility for their own things, often falling into overprotection or acting like parents when it is not applicable. The person may feel good … but what about the others? What happens when it’s overwhelming to have someone who gives too much?

    • Bart M. Keough

      Hi Ana, this scenario You describe sounds as though there may be elements of control, unhealthy dependency and blurred boundaries to name a few. If so this could well lead to eventual conflict due to resentments..? Be Well…!! 😉

      • Ana

        Yes, I guess…
        Thanks for your answer!!!

    • Great question. We all need genuine balanced care. Here is an article about Overcare – Make Sure Your Care is Helping and Not Hurting. It also give you a technique to help you maintain balanced care.

      • Ana

        Thanks, a lot!!! Blessings!!! 🙂

      • Jack B Srimof

        There is only one care possible , and this is the care for oneself .

        Because DNA mimics your feels .

        Got it ?

    • Jack B Srimof

      Pls those people are emotional abusers , they want to control you . As their addiction is highly rewarding for theor brain , they will not stop .

      What to do ?

      Get even .

      No remorse .

      If weak , they will crush you .

      Understood ?

      Pls read posts on my facebook, there is solution for your problem . Pls start with the oldest one .

      Sincerely yours,
      Jack B Srimof

  • Joost

    Matra of Michael (Anthony): I am always truthful, positive and helping others!
    It works and makes me feel happy, with a coherent, healthy, happy, singing, swinging, living, caring, sharing, gratefull chi-heart :-))

  • Conny

    I am from Austria, where we have lots of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan etc. In our community we have a buddy system of helpers- meaning one local family is helping a refugee family integrate. In this way a relationship develops relatively fast and I can wholeHEARTedly confirm what Hearthmath has researched. It is a joy and pleasure see those people find peace and quiet and new perspectives in their lives and this also gives us joy and satisfaction, although it can be quite challenging at times, but we love doing it! Lots of love from Austria

  • Phoeba_Tron

    very interested in the cocktail hormonal mix of where adrenal fatigue sits amongst all of this: certainly for many in the caring services/ sectors of society: NGO, conservation, community care, teaching/education: school & academia- where wages/ pay can be [increasingly] for the Labour of love invested, scales can often be tipped to burnout without proper self care and balance!

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  • Jack B Srimof

    Be generous to yourself, be kind to yourself.

    Feel goddamn good about yourself. Yrs, goddamn good . Because your DNA wilk mimic you . And yoir children .

  • Jack B Srimof

    What’s why I do not care for Christmas, as such .

    Waste of my time and emotions .

  • marlot

    I would love to read into the research that is described in this article, because I find it such an interesting topic. Where can I find links to the original research?

  • siochain

    caring about others and acting accordingly was born in me. Its a natural response to the world and has generally just felt like the right thing to do. ..but a question I wonder how having heart surgery three time may have effected my chemistry . They went into the heart twice and I still have plastic parts hanging out there. I know depression is often a result of heart surgery , which I experienced but could have come from other aspects of my life at the time..also empathic and that has its impact on my emotional well being .

  • Rhonda Lee Stephenson

    I believe one-ness consciousness and personal purpose is to help those who do not give of themselves through money or time, understand why they should. Then we can all play in the same sandbox….

  • Juliana Tocade

    I feel more Positive, more happy when I lavish the money on myself…why? Because I love myself. But loving myself makes me extremely loving and giving to others too.

  • Kimberly Yoder

    How sad that Jack B. Srimof felt that way and said so to Ana. What difference should it make to us how or why anyone else helps their fellow human. They may have more income or more things to give away, etc. Our $10 may be nothing to them, and $1000 is just a drop in the bucket.Or even a deduction on their tax return. We can only do what we can; be thankful for it and receive our own blessing. Don’t look into the action or judge others.