Why is it that so often some of the happiest and most upbeat people are also those who are the most generous and giving? Well, it might be the same question as which came first, the chicken or the egg! It's interesting to wonder if people are giving and generous because they're happy, or if they have a giving a generous spirit as a result of being a happy and contented person.
Research conducted and published by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteering leads to better health, lower rates of mortality, and improved physical and mental health. While this study was largely focused on retirees and the relationship to their physical health and well being, it did show that there is a definite correlation between mental health and volunteering.
The New Republic reported that research showed that people who routinely gave 10 percent or more of their income annually were 9 percent less likely to experience depression. Additionally, research showed that individuals who were considered generous in their relationships, those who were hospitable and emotionally available, were 17 percent more likely to be in "excellent" health. That research is especially interesting because it measured not only generosity with money, but an openness of spirit and a generosity with one's time and emotional resources in the support and care of others.
According to sociologist, Christian Smith who conducted research on generosity and happiness, "ultimately we have to pursue living well, and then ultimately we’ll be happy." While his research didn't prove that one can just go out and be generous and volunteer in order to begin to feel happy, it did show that an overall pursuit of happiness was linked to an overall lifestyle of openness and generosity.
Wow! So let's dig even a little deeper and see if we can't learn even more about the psychological rewards of generosity. Dr. Stephen G. Post of Stony Brook Universtiy explains that there is definitive evidence linking "feeling good" to generosity. "Philanthropy doles out several different happiness chemicals,” Post says, “including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria, and oxytocin which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.” Astoundingly, these are the same "reward" chemicals which are released during sexual activity and eating.
The bottom line is that we're hard-wired to survive, and survival means working together and depending on each other and the community in order to make our survival more viable and more enjoyable. Therefore, it only makes sense that we are "rewarded" for supporting others in our lives and within our communities, helping humanity overall.
The link between giving and happiness is very real and very important for not only the well being of every individual, but for the survival and betterment of all. Happiness never happens in a bubble and we can all benefit from sharing resources, time, emotional availability, and a positive outlook with those around us.