Giving and Happiness

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Andreas Mogensen, our Assistant Director, has researched the effects of giving on personal wellbeing, and found that it can make us happier.

Giving 10% of your income to effective charities can make an incredible difference to some of the most deprived people in the world. But what effect will giving have on you? You may be concerned that it will damage your quality of life and make you less happy. This is a perfectly reasonable concern, and there is no shame in wanting to live a full and happy life.

The good news is that giving can often make you happier. It is no secret that altruism can help us to feel good about ourselves, and this is now backed up by MRI scans which show this “warm-glow effect” in the reward centres of the brain.

Experiments have been conducted in which a group of people are given money, and half of them are required to spend it on themselves while half are required to spend it on other people. Contrary to their own expectations, the half who spent the money on others consistently get more pleasure out of the experience than their non-altruistic colleagues.

On a wider level, a 2010 study considered survey data from 136 countries to see whether people who answered yes to the question "Have you donated money to charity in the last month?" were happier overall. A clear correlation was found In 122 of the countries; in fact, on average it was found that donating to charity had a similar impact on happiness to household income doubling!

And this evidence is borne out in the testimony of Giving What We Can members. Giving 10% to effective charities is generally an extremely positive experience, giving you the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a genuine difference in the world.

If you're ready to get started, you can join us today. If you’re not ready for that, sign up with us to Try Giving, which allows you to choose how much of your income to give, and for how long. Or, for other ways to help, see our page on Getting Involved.

You can learn more about these issues by viewing the following TED presentation, in which Michael Norton of Harvard Business School discusses surveys and experiments which suggest that spending money on others makes people happier than spending it on themselves.

Sources:

  • Aknin, Lara et al (2010). "Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal", Harvard Business School Working Paper 11-038.
  • Dunn, Elizabeth et al (2008). "Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness", Science 319.
  • Harbaugh, William et al (2007). "Neural responses to taxation and voluntary giving reveal motives for charitable donations", Science, 316