The fact that giving feels good isn’t the only reason we do it, but it’s probably the most vital because it’s why we continue to do it. Psychologists call this “prosocial behavior” because it has a mutually beneficial effect, promoting positivity, social acceptance, and friendship. And that’s good for everyone involved.
But if you don’t find reasons to give freely and often, you can forget how good that feels—and instead get lost in your own fears and worries. Which is why giving isn’t just a kind thing to do; it’s critical to your own stress management. Andrew Shatte, PhD, a psychologist and the Chief Science Officer at meQuilibrium, is an expert on resilience. And as I’ve heard him say many times, it’s that sense of connection to others, strangers and friends alike, and to our communities, that gives us the wherewithal to cope when stress comes crashing down.
Giving is the antidote to stress. And while writing a check or zipping funds through the internet is fantastic and a great way to support causes close to you in an expedient way, don’t overlook the value of giving to those you feel personally connected to.
Why Putting a Face On It Matters
New research published in the Journal of Happiness and Development, reported here on HuffPo, has shown that you stand to gain even greater emotional benefits when you know the person you’re giving to. In this series of studies, 68 men and women were shown an ad for a charity in Africa and then invited to donate. Some in a randomly assigned group, however, were told that they had a friend who had just come back from Africa and that this money was being raised on that person’s behalf. Then the participants reported their life satisfaction.
While the amount of money donated was about the same for both groups (about $5), those who were told they had a personal connection to the charity felt happier about giving. In other words, those who believed their charity benefited someone they knew experienced greater reward from the gift. The researchers report that social connectedness may be critical for turning good deeds into positive feelings.
Here are some other ways to extend the benefits of giving:
Donate time, not just money. What groups or organizations in your town, church, temple, or the kids’ school could use someone like you, even just a few hours a week? Nothing beats being able to interact with and collaborate with people in person.
Advocate for someone. Being a mentor for someone just out of school or new to your industry is a wonderful way to give back. Take the time to connect with a new hire, make a few calls on someone’s behalf, or give a junior associate the feedback he’s craving. It takes so little to help inspire and encourage someone else, and the rewards are tenfold.
Organize a group give. If you’d like to make a bigger impact in a small community, rally a team of friends or coworkers to pursue a giving goal together, whether that’s helping out with a clothing drive, or raising funds as a group for a shared cause. When you team up for a collective effort, you share the wealth in more ways than one.