Giving and Happiness

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Donating to effective charities can significantly improve the lives of others. But what effect will giving have on you?

You may be concerned that giving to others will decrease your own 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.

However, the great news is that charitable giving can often make you happier. Several experimental studies have been conducted to examine whether there are any correlations between giving and level of happiness. This now backed up by MRI scans which show this "warm-glow effect" in the reward centres of the brain.

In one study, a group of people were given a small sum of money. Half of the study participants  were required to spend it on themselves while the other half of individuals were required to spend it on other people. Contrary to their own expectations, those who spent the money on others consistently reported feeling happier and got more pleasure out of the experience than their non-altruistic colleagues.

In 2010, a similar research study was conducted to investigate the correlation between charitable giving and happiness. A survey was administered to participants from 136 countries, to verify whether respondents 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 136 participating countries; in fact, on average, the study found that donating to charity had a similar impact on happiness to household income doubling!

This evidence is borne out in the testimonies of Giving What We Can members, who emphasize that donating a significant portion of their income to effective charities is a rewarding and positive experience. Charitable giving, especially to the most effective organizations, can bring the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a genuine difference in the world, by considerably improving the lives of others.

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.


Join an effective giving community

If you've made it this far, we hope you're inspired to give more, and to give more effectively.

Join the Giving What We Can community by taking a pledge to donate a meaningful portion of your income to help improve the lives of others. It can help you to live up to your values, meet like-minded people, and inspire others to follow suit.

Take a Pledge

Not ready to pledge? You can also donate to an effective charity, sign up to our newsletter, read our blog, attend an event, join an effective altruism group, or get in touch if you'd like to discuss anything.

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