I am sure you have noticed, but I will remind you anyway, that when you do something nice for someone else, it makes you feel good. And when you do something nice for someone else without any intention or thought of reward or reciprocation, it makes you feel REALLY good (altruism)! The intrinsic motivation for doing a good deed is reward enough!
Here’s the science behind the good feeling of giving: thought to be an evolutionary adaptation, the brain releases dopamine in response to altruistic acts (Reuter et al. 2010). Dopamine is a brain chemical that is involved with reward, as in “that felt good, let’s do it again!” There have been some clever experiments which tested and supported the hypothesis that altruism leads to happiness. In a now famous study conducted at Harvard School of Altrusim (just kidding, there is no Harvard School of Altruism, but that sounds kind of cool, don’t you think? It was actually Elizabeth Dunn in the Psychology Department of the University of British Columbia, who conducted the study, 2008), participants were asked to rate their happiness, then were given money and instructed to either spend the money on themselves, or to spend it on others. Long story short, those who spent the money on others reported greater levels of happiness. So, it turns out that money does indeed lead to happiness, provided you GIVE the money away rather that keep it yourself. By the way, in another study conducted by Dunn, she asked a group of college students to predict which would make them happier, spending money on themselves, or spending money on others. The majority of the participants predicted that spending money on themselves would feel best. So, maybe we are not such great judges of what will make us happy. Perhaps we should listen to Dr. Elizabeth Dunn! While we’re at it, let’s also take heed of the findings of studies conducted by Sonja Lyubormirsky of Stanford University (2004). Her study showed that participants who “committed” five random acts of kindness all in one day reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction. Random acts of kindness could be anything from volunteering at an assisted living facility to leaving a generous tip, from holding the door open for another to delivering dinner to a sick friend. Be a listening ear for a friend, allow him/her to lean on you; help them to carry on! And, where possible, commit the kindnesses anonymously (it feels better).
In short, do something good today! Do five good things today! Not only will someone else benefit from it, which is totally awesome, but so will you! You will feel happier, more satisfied, and really good!
peace and love,