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Giving Brings Happiness

Performing a small act of generosity may earn you big dividends in happiness.

That’s what University of Zurich researchers discovered after examining the brains of 50 study participants.

Researchers gave subjects a weekly sum of money over a month: Half were instructed to spend it on themselves; the other half, to spend it on someone else. The participants were then asked to consider a separate act of generosity.

Those previously instructed to spend on others tended to be more generous when given the option of a second charitable act — and also reported feeling happier, which was reflected in neural-image activity. Brain scans showed that the intention of generosity activates an altruistic area of the brain, intensifying the interaction between this area and the area affiliated with happiness.

Even tiny acts of generosity do the trick: “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” notes lead study author Philippe Tobler, PhD, a University of Zurich neuroeconomist.

Though the study, published in Nature, does not prove causation, it’s worth performing more acts of generosity to see for yourself.

For more on the health benefits of giving — and ways to grow your generosity — see “The Gifts of Generosity.”

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