Why do we give without getting an instant reward? In the research review The Science of Generosity, scientists have examined the psychological, social, and biological factors behind giving. They looked at over 350 studies and meta-studies conducted since 1971 on generosity and giving.
An interesting finding was that humans did not appear as aggressive and self-centered as is often portrayed. On the contrary, generosity seems to come naturally to most of us. Even toddlers display behaviors of generosity.
What we get from giving
Even if we don’t get something in return for giving, for example, money, giving is associated with numerous benefits. Participants in the studies reported greater quality of life, vitality, and overall happiness. Even small acts of generosity, such as picking up an object someone dropped, made a difference in the giver’s mood.
The factors behind giving
Furthermore, people showed to be more likely to be generous when in states of awe or delight. Generosity can be seen as a personality trait in itself but is affected by values, morals, and one’s sense of identity. One study found that the states in the United States with the highest rate of organ donations to strangers corresponded to the states with the highest self-reported happiness. This suggests that when you take care of yourself first, you are more likely to give to others.
The available resources seemed to have a linear impact regarding timing and setting, but not money. People’s willingness to give didn’t necessarily increase with higher income. It did seem related to the amount of time and the setting, though. For example, someone running late was less likely to stop and help than someone who wasn’t under time constraints. Natural environments sparked more generosity than artificial ones. So if you need help, it could be beneficial to go to a park.
Get engaged: Giving Tuesday
Giving Tuesday is a global movement initiated in 2012. Their mission is to strengthen the concepts of shared humanity and radical generosity. Or, simply put: to encourage people to do good.
The idea is to give something, in some way, every Tuesday. It doesn’t have to be money. Every selfless act counts: people give time, things they can spare, free education, or a hand to someone in need. Even something as simple as smiling at a stranger makes the world a little brighter.
The movement has since branched out into local communities centered around different causes or issues. On the Giving Tuesday website, you can read stories about some of the initiatives like free hugs, financial donations, and the creation of artwork encouraging unity and peace.
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Together, we build the world we want to see! Knowing the scientific benefits of giving, you help both yourself and others. It’s a win-win.