The Benefits of Giving
There is no end to the ways one can pamper one’s self. Indulgent spa treatments, a vacation getaway on a white sands beach, dinner at The Four Seasons-life doesn’t get much better than that. And you deserve some perks for all your hard work. But instead of rewarding yourself, it’s just possible you’d get more out of giving to others, instead.
Huh? What’s that you say? I should take my hard-earned dollars and spend them on someone else??
It’s like this: a 2009 study by faculty and graduate students from the Harvard Business School called, “Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior,” found that doing nice things for others can lead to unintended, positive consequences for the giver. We all know that doing good deeds feels good, but how many of us know that charitable activities benefit our emotional, psychological, and spiritual health? The odd thing is, the benefits accrue whether one is acting out of altruism or not.
Among other experiments cited, the Harvard study tells of a 1972 research trial conducted by Isen and Levin which showed that those who experienced a kindness were more inclined to help others. It could be a matter of pulling into a parking spot to find the meter has plenty of time left on it for you to go do your errands without paying for parking. Or perhaps your child benefits from a free afterschool program supported by the Kars4Kids car donation charity. After benefiting from a charitable deed, we may just hold the door open to a bathroom stall for that next woman in line rooting fruitlessly through her wallet for change. Benefiting from the good deeds of others appears to predispose us toward paying it forward, as the popular expression goes.
Here are three persuasive reasons to give until it, um, feels good.
- 1) Giving charity is its own (pleasurable) reward. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies conducted in 2007 by Harbaugh, Mayr, and Burghart, found that giving charity activates the brain regions associated with reward and pleasure. In this study, the research team studied the brain activity of participants as they discussed how they would use a sum of one hundred dollars. They could split it between themselves and a food bank. Those who decided to give the entire amount to the food bank activated a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, a brain region that assesses and responds accordingly to feel-good stimuli, for instance, a ballet performance or a hit of cocaine.
These results tell us that giving money comes with a built-in reward. It makes sense: when you help someone in need, it makes you feel you have a reason for being. Hence the sensation of subconscious satisfaction-your neurons know it even if you don’t. Giving to others is feel-good stuff.
- 2) Charitable donations offer tax deductions. When you make a donation to a not-for-profit charity, you can deduct the amount you donate from your taxes. While it may not seem like you saved any money on the surface, when your tax deductions lower your tax bracket, you really will pay less money in taxes. It’s a win/win situation. Your donation helps a favorite cause, and you pay out less money in taxes.
- 3) Giving donations means getting involved and staying informed about social issues. Most of us want to know about the organizations that accept our donations. With the advent of the Internet, learning about causes became as easy as the click of the mouse. By researching charities, you can learn a great deal about social injustices and other societal issues. Knowing about the issues that affect society makes you a better-rounded member of society with an educated perspective and may bring you to more active, more effective participation in causes, for instance, through volunteering your time in addition to your money.