Does Giving Make People Happier? A Texas A&M psychiatry and behavioral sciences expert says positive neurological effects are associated with giving

Dee Dee Grays, Texas A&M University Health Science Center

As the old adage goes, it’s better to give than to receive. And there’s research to back it up.

According to J. Dewayne Taylor, clinical assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine, helping and giving to others is linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety, improved health, and a reduction in stress hormones. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have also shown that giving to charity creates activity involving the dopamine receptors in the regions of the brain associated with pleasure and reward.

“Although many people experience a reduction in stress, the reasons are not clear-cut,” Taylor said. “Most likely, the ensuing calming effect is a result of several factors at play including a sense of meaning, which in turn can have a satisfying effect.”

Taylor notes that volunteering also has the added benefit of being able to see an immediate positive impact in people’s lives, along with the physical exercise that often comes with these activities.

“Giving can also be contagious,” Taylor said. “Seeing others give makes an individual more likely to give, and gentle encouragement from a prominent person in your life can also make a big difference to your donation decisions.”

While research has shown that exchanging gifts, making a donation or volunteering one’s time can have positive emotional, biological and physical effects, there are some caveats when it comes to giving.

Taylor said gift-giving and charitable donations should be limited to what one can afford. “Too many families go into debt trying to show love through giving things, when time and relationships are so much more meaningful,” he said.

Families should make a gift-giving and donation plan and be realistic about their budgets, Taylor said. He suggests giving time and service over financial donations. For example, spending time with an elderly loved one will likely mean more to them than material gifts.

Overall, giving does make people happier. It not only brings joy to the giver, but also happiness and comfort to the recipient.


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  • Dee Dee Grays, Texas A&M University Health Science Center