Every year on September 4th, Bob Blackley of North Carolina stands on a street corner holding a sign. It reads “I have home. I have a job. Could YOU use an extra $5.00?” Anyone who stops is given a crisp, new $5.00 bill, no questions asked. The first year he did it, he gave away $700. The next year, it was $750. He says he wishes he could win the lottery. Then, he could give away $100 bills instead of only fives.
When asked the reason for his generosity, he says “It’s my birthday!” He doesn’t care what people spend the money on. He just wants to spread a little happiness. His yearly gift to himself is to make others smile.
A recent study from the University of Zurich in Switzerland confirms that Bob Blackley is on to something. Generosity really does breed happiness. When researchers used fMRIs to scan the brains of study participants, specific areas of the brain related to altruism and happiness lit up in those who gave to others, but not in those who acted selfishly. Also, when asked how they felt after the experiment was over, those who gave reported greater feelings of happiness than those who didn’t.
Interestingly, the amount of money given away made little difference in the outcome. Says researcher Philippe Tobler, “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice”. In fact, the generous participants experienced an increase in happiness just by pledging to give, before they actually gave anything at all.
In previous studies, generosity was also linked with reduced mortality, better overall health, and a reduced risk of heart problems. So, when you spend a little extra money in the morning to bring your work-mates a cup of coffee, you’re not just helping them. You’re also benefiting yourself.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has an honours degree in English Literature from the University of Waterloo, and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.