Generosity Leads to a Happy Life, Study Shows
Generosity makes men and women happier, even though they are a bit generous. Men and women who act completely out of self-interest are much less happy. Merely promising to be generous is adequate to set off a metamorphosis in our brains that makes us happier, neuroeconomists have found out in a latest study.
What some were aware of for a long time, others to find hard to suppose: those people who are more involved and concerned about the well-being of their fellow human beings are happier than individuals who focus simply on their own development. Doing something great for another person offers many people a good feeling that behavioral economists call a warm glow. In collaboration with worldwide researchers, Philippe Tobler and Ernst Fehr from the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich investigated how areas in the brain interact to create this feeling. The results provide perception into the interaction between altruism and happiness.
In their experiments, the researchers found that individuals who behaved generously had been happier afterwards than individuals who behaved more selfishly. However, the extent of generosity did not influence the increase in contentment. According to Phillippe Tobler, “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice.”
Before the experiment began, some of the participants had claimed to be behaving generously to other people. This group was willing to accept higher costs so as to do anything exceptional for someone else. Additionally they considered themselves happier after their generous behavior (however not until now) than the control group, who had committed to behaving generously toward themselves.
While the participants were determining whether to behave or not to behave generously, the researchers examined activity in three areas of the participants’ brains: within the temporoparietal junction (where prosocial conduct and generosity are processed), within the ventral striatum (which is associated with happiness), and within the orbitofrontal cortex (the place we weigh the pro and cons in decision making). These three brain areas interacted in different ways, relying on whether or not the participants had dedicated to generosity or selfishness.
Promising to behave generously activated the altruistic field of the brain and intensified the interplay between this area and the area related to happiness. According to Tobler, “It is remarkable that intent alone generates a neural change before the action is actually implemented.”
Another author, Soyoung Park, added, “There are still some open questions, such as: Can communication between these brain regions be trained and strengthened? If so, how? And, does the effect last when it is used deliberately, that is, if a person only behaves generously in order to feel happier?’