Generosity makes people happier, even if they are only a little generous. Merely promising to be more generous is enough to trigger a change in our brains that makes us happier, a new study found.
Those who are concerned about the well-being of their fellow human beings are happier than those who focus only on their own advancement, neuroeconomists at the University of Zurich found.
Doing something nice for another person gives many people a pleasant feeling that behavioral economists call a warm glow. In collaboration with international researchers, Philippe Tobler and Ernst Fehr from the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich investigated how brain areas communicate to produce this feeling. The results provide insight into the interplay between altruism and happiness.
In their experiments, the researchers found that people who behaved generously were happier afterwards than those who behaved more selfishly. However, the amount of generosity did not influence the increase in contentment. “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” Philippe Tobler said.
Before the experiment started, some of the study participants had verbally committed to behaving generously towards other people. This group was willing to accept higher costs in order to do something nice for someone else. They also considered themselves happier after their generous behavior (but not beforehand) than the control group, who had committed to behaving generously toward themselves.
“Promising to behave generously could be used as a strategy to reinforce the desired behavior, on the one hand, and to feel happier, on the other,” Tobler added.
The study, the materials of which was provided by University of Zurich, was published in Science Daily.