Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Consider the findings of the 2010 Do Good Live Well Survey (www.VolunteerMatch.org) of 4,500 American adults. Forty-one percent of Americans volunteered an average of 100 hours a year. Sixty-eight percent of those who volunteered reported that it made them feel physically healthier; 89% that it “has improved my sense of well-bring” and 73% that it “lowered my stress levels.”
Stephen G. Post, author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get us Through Hard Times, explained to me in an interview I conducted with him on Psych Central when his book came out: “As the saying goes, ‘if you help someone up the hill, you get closer yourself.’ Whether the group is focused on weight loss, smoking cessation, substance abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and recovery, or countless other needs, a defining feature of the group is that people are deeply engaged in helping one another, and are in part motivated by an explicit interest in their own healing.”
Now new research to be published in the “International Journal of Happiness and Development” investigates for the first time how social connection helps turn generous behavior into positive feelings on the part of the donor. Lara Aknin of Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver and Harvard Business School, Massachusetts, USA, wanted to examine when the emotional benefits of giving to charity become manifest. They carried out three studies of charitable donations, or more precisely pro-social spending, and found that spending money on others or giving money to charity leads to the greatest happiness boost when giving fosters social connection. The overarching conclusion is that donors feel happiest if they give to a charity via a friend, relative or social connection rather than simply making an anonymous donation to a worthy cause.
The research has implications for not-for-profit organizations hoping to maximize donations, suggesting that recruiting advocates and helping them build on their social connections could have benefits for the donors too. The findings also complement earlier research that has demonstrated a positive effect on happiness of social interaction and taking part in voluntary work.
“While additional factors other than social connection likely influence the happiness gained from pro-social spending our findings suggest that putting the social in pro-social is one way to transform good deeds into good feelings,” the team concludes.
Aknin, L.B., Dunn, E.W., Sandstrom, G.M. and Norton, M.I. (2013) `Does social connection turn good
deeds into good feelings?: On the value of putting the `social´ in prosocial spending´,
International Journal of Happiness and Development, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.155-171 (DOI:
Published originally on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.