Giving actually makes you happy

A close connection between generosity and happiness also shows in the brain

Generous action makes us happy - this is also evident in the brain © stockbyte / thinkstock
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A warm feeling: Being generous makes us happy - more than rewarding ourselves. This close connection between giving and happiness is even shown in the brain, as an experiment shows. Thus, generous behavior activates a brain area that is closely linked to our reward center. This deeply rooted combination of happiness and giving is greatly underestimated in everyday life, according to the researchers in the journal Nature Communications.

Most people have a degree of generosity and altruism: we donate money for good causes, sacrifice volunteer time, and cooperate even when we have little or no benefit from it. But what drives this generosity? Studies provide very different explanatory approaches, from the genes on the hope of reciprocity and the targeted promotion of friends and relatives to a contagion effect.

But the immediate driving force for generous behavior could be much more pragmatic and simpler: it just makes you happy. "The warm feeling we feel when we do something for others could encourage generous human behavior, " said Soyoung Park of the University of Lübeck and her colleagues. Whether this is really the case and how generosity and happiness are related in the brain, they have now investigated.

Looking into the brain while giving

For their study, the researchers initially promised their 50 subjects a small cash grant for four weeks. One half should spend this money for themselves and think about how concrete. The other half, however, should spend this money on someone else - be it in the form of a dinner invitation or a gift - and commit to it in writing.

Only then did the actual experiment begin. In this the participants should share a sum of money allocated to them with a friend. Yes, after trial, this reduced their own profit more or less. During this decision, the researchers recorded the participants' brain activity using functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRI). In addition, they were asked before and after the degree of their happiness. display

Generous people are happier

The interesting result: the subjects of the "Gro z gigen" group not only shared more readily in the follow-up test. They also felt happier doing so. For the control subjects, who were supposed to spend the money for themselves in advance, this positive feeling was much less pronounced, as the researchers report.

"We find that even the publicly declared intention to act generously increases the efficiency and happiness of the future, " he said Researchers. "Considering the fact that the participants did not get the money or spend it at this time, this is remarkable."

Activation of the temporoparietal transition (TPJ) in the mind of the "poled on generosity" subjects. Park et al / Nature Communications, CC-by-sa 4.0

Connects also in the brain

This happiness effect of giving was also evident in the brain: In the large-scale subjects, the neurons fired in the so-called temporoparietal junction (TPJ) particularly strongly a brain area that was associated with prosocial, altruistic Behavior is related. "The TPJ plays a crucial role in overcoming one's selfish motives, " explain the researchers.

Even more exciting, however: The generous action also activated connections of the temporoparietal transition to one of the happiness centers in the brain, the ventral striatum. This is closely linked to the reward center and responds whenever we do something good or another, as it turns out. "This confirms our hypothesis of a close link between generosity and happiness, " says Park and her colleagues.

Underrated effect

Interestingly, giving makes it even happier than self-reward contrary to popular opinion: "When you ask people, most people think the happiness is greater if you spend money on yourself, "the researchers report. "In everyday life, most people therefore underestimate the connection between generosity and happiness and thus overlook the advantages of prosocial giving."

The involuntary "warm feeling" of giving could, in her view, be so deeply rooted and pronounced that it forms the driving force for the generosity of man. That might explain why altruistic action is so pronounced in human societies. When and why the generosity began to trigger this feeling on our ancestors would be the next interesting question. (Nature Communications, 2017; doi: 10.1038 / ncomms15964)

(Nature, 12.07.2017 - NPO)