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The Psychology of Giving

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We all know that giving is a good thing, whether you’ve found your loved one that perfect gift or you are simply helping someone during a time of need. When you open your heart, you get more than just a mere few moments of happiness. Instead, a whole series of chemical reactions occur in the brain that actually last longer than those experienced from the joy of receiving. 

As we move into the winter months, you’ll notice more people on the high streets with buckets and online, nationwide appeals that reach out to our giving nature in order to support those that would otherwise go without.

Rather than walk on by, consider the mental, emotional and spiritual benefits you can gain by simply offering your spare change and how your small contribution could mean a world of difference to someone less fortunate. 

Donate to charity

Charity is incredible and without it, lots of less fortunate groups would suffer, those who have been unfairly exposed to conflict and crisis, whether due to internal conflict in their home countries or as a result of natural disaster. Some groups make charity a huge part of their lives, giving in accordance with their spiritual guide for times such as Christmas and New Year. 

This type of giving is recurring, ongoing, year after year and contributes to a huge amount of resources for those in need. While the true benefactors of these donations are those that receive help, food and shelter from others generosity, the givers themselves receive rewards in the form of happiness. 

A study conducted in 2008 gave 96 participants a $5 reward every day with the stipulation they must spend it that day in the same way. Either on themselves or as a reward for others through tip jars, online charity donations or other beneficial means. Over a period of five days, each participant was asked to report their happiness level. Of which, all those who spent the money on themselves reported a gradual decline in happiness over the five days.

Those who opted to donate or otherwise give away their $5 showed no decline in happiness and that their happiness level was just as strong as their happiness at the end of the study. 

Many studies have been carried out previous to the 2008 study and have continued to be held since and all the results point to the same outcome – those who give or offer resources (time or money) to assist others less fortunate receive an ongoing boost in happiness that does not diminish over time, unlike receiving a reward yourself where happiness levels gradually decline. 

More than just money

Giving doesn’t have to be strictly monetary and there are plenty of ways you can offer assistance to those less fortunate. For example, soup kitchens and non-profits that hand out food, clothing and lifestyle items to the homeless or those living in poverty always require volunteers who have time to spare.

Charity shops and sales that sell second-hand or pre-loved items with the intention to donate the funds to less fortunate groups are always in need of quality items that someone would be happy to buy. 

Time and money still aren’t the only resources we can afford to give either. Consider your skills or your own resources. Do you run or own a venue where you can hold charitable events or offer the space for events, such as Iftar during Ramadan, toy donation drives over Christmas or simply a beautiful space for weddings for those who may not be able to afford the usual conference space.  

Do you have a skill in a craft such as making trinkets, jewellery or paper crafts that can be sold to raise money? Or are you a budding baker or chef with the ability to create some delicious treats that will fill some hungry bellies? With the economy, money isn’t always readily available, but we are all skilled in our special way and as such can offer our knowledge and abilities to help those learn new important skills of their own. 

Before the year is out, do what you can to help a less fortunate group, whether that’s by donating your time, money or simply offering a skill. Not only will you benefit those who may only have a bleak, poverty-stricken winter to look forward to but you’ll be able to reap those all-important happiness rewards yourself.

Helen Bradfield did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh.  She has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.

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