Have you ever been told that doing nice things for others makes you happier? Well, it turns out that science backs this claim.
When you give – whether it’s your time, money, or something else – it lights up the same part of your brain as when you eat chocolate. This is called a ‘pleasure response’. And studies have shown that, much like eating chocolate, the reaction is not associated with the amount that you give, so even the smallest donations give you a boost.
This ‘pleasure response’ occurs when your brain recognises abundance – you have enough to share. Busy people who feel that they have to volunteer for longer than they have to spare, or being persuaded to donate more than you can afford, will give your brain a scarcity complex, which will take away the pleasure response. When there is an abundance response, it makes your brain feel secure and willing to share resources.
In order to maximise the pleasure response, and avoid the scarcity complex, here are some of the best ways to do nice things for others, and feel great about yourself:
- Give your time – Studies show that people – even full-time professionals – who volunteer consistently are happier. Be honest with yourself over how much time you can reasonably give, and volunteer it to something you care about. Check out Good Gym, to combine your giving pleasure response with endorphins for the ultimate feel-good factor!
- Donate smaller amounts, regularly -There is a misconception that only big donations are important. In fact, many charities rely on a steady stream of small direct debit donations from ordinary citizens who give what they can. If you are able to give something (i.e.: if you have a monthly income), you will minimise the financial (scarcity) stress and maximise the pleasure (abundance) response by giving what you can on a monthly basis – even just £2 will make a difference, and make you feel good.
- Give specifically – Knowing exactly where your donation is going fires up more pleasure responses in the brain, and gives you more confidence in your donation as you can see where your money is going. This method has been proven by successful charities who tell individual stories, like the child whose life was saved by vaccinations, or the mother who was able to cook with clean water for her family. It’s one reason why Kiva is really great.
- Do small things for the people in your life – Giving doesn’t have to be restricted to charity. Surprise a colleague by getting them a coffee, take a friend who could use some company out for dinner, or simply make a point to give more compliments. By making the people around you smile more, you’ll treat yourself to the same.