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How Philanthropy Can Make You Happy

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If you could be granted one wish, what would you ask for? Fortune? Fame? Love? Whatever you’d consider asking for, it’s likely that you’d ask be asking for this thing because you believe it would make you happy. Ultimately, happiness is what we all search for and some scientists are beginning to focus their research on just how we can obtain it. One thing that has been clearly identified to contribute to our happiness is helping others. Philanthropy is an effective way to help others, whether a person chooses to fundraise or donate time. Research by psychologists suggests that philanthropy, including fundraising, can also increase our levels of happiness.

For instance, in a recent experiment, people were given $20, with some individuals asked to spend it on themselves, and others asked to spend it on other people, either as a gift or a charitable donation. Funnily enough, later in the day, those who spent the cash on others reported higher levels of happiness. Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar sensation when you help out others. It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?

For years, people have referred to that feel-good sensation of giving to others as “helper’s high,” and now scientists have found actual evidence for this phenomenon in the human brain. They’ve found that when we donate money or fundraise for causes that we believe in, the reward system in our brain is activated – just like it is when we are presented with food. It activates dopamine in our systems and makes us feel euphoric.

The feel-good sensation of giving to others was evident in a recent television segment that focused on interviewing volunteers and recipients of donated goods during recovery efforts after a natural disaster. Back in the studio, the presenters agreed that the volunteers seemed to be getting even more out of the experience than the recipients.

The mere act of helping others was enough to increase the happiness of the volunteers. Clearly, philanthropy, by its very definition, is important in advancing humankind. It’s an opportunity for individuals to contribute to a better society, by focusing on improving an issue or situation close to their hearts. Philanthropy’s link to personal happiness is icing on the cake.

Sources:

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687-1688.

Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., Oliveiri-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006). Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(42), 15623-15628.

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