I have written about happiness, and I have written about decluttering. What if the two are related? I have found that one of the best ways to boost my happiness is to give away the items I don’t need to someone who does need them. And there are studies to back this up.
This reward or pleasure response to giving is the physiological reason behind the ‘warm glow’ or that good feeling you get when you give and why you may choose to spend money on others or charity compared to yourself. But does giving actually make you happier? According to a survey and study by researchers Dunn, Akin, Aknin and Norton, it does.
After finding that people who spent a higher proportion of their income on prosocial spending (gifts for others and donations to charity) compared to personal spending (bills/expenses and gifts on themselves) were ‘happier’ in a self reported survey, the researchers set up a real-world experiment. Randomly assigned people were put into four groups that were to spend $5 on themselves, $20 on themselves, $5 on others or $20 on others. Those who spent $5 or $20 on others reported being much happier while those that spent money on themselves showed no change in happiness. Also of note, the group that gave away $5 was just as happy as the group that had $20 to give away showing that happiness in giving can be more about the how as opposed to the how much (more on that later).
This weekend I had the opportunity to help someone due to the generosity of another. A friend, Pam, was moving and had some items she was giving away. I immediately thought of my sister-in-law, Lynn, who just moved into a new house a few months ago and combined her family of three kids with her boyfriend’s family of four kids. My husband and I helped move the items to Lynn’s house, as it all wouldn’t fit in one vehicle. I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to help them. I know they will benefit greatly from the items another decided to generously give away. Lynn sent me the picture above of her family already enjoying the chaise, and I forwarded it to Pam. The warm feelings went full circle.
I went through a period where I wanted to buy, buy, buy. I remember shopping for hours and buying whatever I wanted for me, the house, etc. And I thought that made me happy. But now I realize it didn’t generate a sustainable happy. Now I have entered into a period of give, give, give. The happiness I feel from donating items to those in need lasts a lot longer than that shopper’s high I used to experience. I am constantly evaluating the things I have in the context of do we use it? When was the last time we used it? Could someone else benefit more from using it? It has become almost a challenge for me to determine what I can possibly give away to benefit another. And I have gotten my husband starting to think the same way. I believe he is getting the “helper’s high” that I already knew existed.
Now you don’t always have to give away stuff — you can volunteer your time and/or money to causes that are near and dear to your heart. Below are just five ways you can maximize your happiness by giving–I am sure there are more:
- Give to very specific projects. You may have heard about a little thing called Kickstarter or GoFundMe. These are examples of projects where you know exactly what you are donating to and how your contribution can get them closer to their goals. A few years ago I did something similar when I donated to an organization where teachers could post what they needed for their classrooms. They listed specifically what they needed, e.g. a couple of iPads, and how much money they needed. I tended to look for projects that needed just about what I wanted to give to reach their goal. While I was happy to help them reach their goals, it was even more amazing when I received a thank you card from the teacher along with thank yous from all the pre-school kids. I made a collage of them, framed them, and hung them in my office as reminder of the benefits of giving.
- Give more frequently in smaller amounts. I have been participating in this lately through my affiliation with the local Girls Pint Out chapter I belong to. At many of our get togethers there is a container out to support a local charity and you can put in whatever you have. I have contributed to a variety of causes this way and it always makes me feel good to do so.
- Give with no strings attached. ‘Nuff said.
- Give when you know who your donation will help. See #1
- Give in public ways. I can see both sides of this one. Some people feel good from donating anonymously, while others like to recognized for their contributions. Whatever way gives you the most satisfaction, I say go for it. Just give!