Even small amounts of generosity could make people Even small amounts of generosity could make people

A Little Generosity Could Help People Lead Happier Lives

Pouring tea as a generosity conceptEven small amounts of generosity could make people happier, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

The study, which explored the neural effects of generous behavior, found even a promise to behave generously has the potential to improve mood. The study looked at blood flow to brain regions associated with happiness and generosity rather than other more subjective assessments of mood. It is unclear whether the changes in brain behavior that were measured in the study improved participants’ feelings of well-being.

Does Generosity Make People Happier?

The study gathered data on 50 participants to whom researchers promised to send 25 Swiss francs weekly for four weeks. Half of the participants agreed to spend the money on someone they knew. The other half agreed to spend the money on themselves.

Participants then completed a decision-making task while researchers measured changes in the brain’s blood flow using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The decision-making task required participants to decide to whom to give the money, and at what amount.

Each choice required participants to give up some of their money in order to give money to another person. For example, they might decide to give someone 5 francs at a personal cost of 2 francs. These decisions required personal sacrifice in the name of generosity. People were more likely to behave generously when their generosity conferred greater benefits at a lower cost.

Generosity Activates Happiness in the Brain

Brain scans revealed those making decisions about generous behavior had increased activity in three brain regions: the tempoparietal junction, which plays a role in generosity and prosocial behavior; the orbitofrontal cortex, which processes decision-making; and the ventral striatum, which is associated with feelings of happiness.

Participants who had previously committed to spend money on someone else displayed different blood flow patterns than those who had committed to spend their money on themselves. In those committed to generosity, the interactions between brain regions linked to generosity and those linked to happiness were stronger.

The researchers say these results suggest simply committing to generous behavior can activate brain regions associated with happiness, and future research could further illuminate the link between happiness and generosity. Researchers might explore how to strengthen the connection between brain regions associated with happiness and generosity. They might also look into whether being generous with the specific intention to increase feelings of happiness is effective.


  1. Generous people live happier lives. (2017, July 17). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170711112441.htm
  2. Park, S. Q., Kahnt, T., Dogan, A., Strang, S., Fehr, E., & Tobler, P. N. (2017). A neural link between generosity and happiness. Nature Communications, 8, 15964. doi:10.1038/ncomms15964

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Colleen

    July 26th, 2017 at 10:18 AM

    This is why doing volunteer work can be such a valuable lifeline for those who are struggling with depression. Going out and helping other people who have even less than what we do is always going to make most of us feel better than when we start. There is just something that goes along with being a part of that giving spirit and generosity that tends to have this kind of effect on people. I know that it can be difficult to even consider than when you are depressed and going through some really deep things. But I promise you that it can make such a difference in your life, how you feel at any given moment, when you experience the positivity that goes right along with giving back to others who are in need.

  • Van

    July 27th, 2017 at 1:11 PM

    Yes! I feel my best when I know that something that I am doing is making a difference to someone.

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