Indeed, according to the Social Capital Community Benchmark
Survey, a huge study of 30,000 American households, those
who gave money to a charitable organization in the year 2000
were 43% more likely to say they were "very happy" with
their lives than were those who had not given. Likewise,
those who did volunteer work were 42% more likely to
consider themselves very happy than those who did none.
According to the survey,
whether donations of money or time were made to symphony
orchestras, hospitals, or churches made no difference.
Whatever the cause, those who gave were happier by far than
those who did not.
Those who give are also
less inclined to feel sad or depressed than those who did
not give. According to the University of Michigan's Panel
Study of Income Dynamics, those who gave money in 2001 were
34% less likely than those who did not give to say that in
the previous month, they had felt "so sad that nothing could
cheer them up." They were also 68% less likely to have felt
For Mr. Brooks, a
Syracuse University Professor and the author of Who
Really Cares—America's Charity Divide: Who Gives, Who
Doesn't, and Why It Matters (Basic Books, 2006), the gap
between the levels of happiness of those who give and those
who do not is not simply explained by personal
characteristics like income or religious belief. By way of
example, he introduces us to two people identical in every
particular: income, faith, age, education, politics, gender,
etc. One of them gives money and time (through volunteer
work), while the other does not give either. As a result of
giving, the first person will be, on average, 11 percentage
points more likely to be very happy than the second.
Of course, it's not just giving gifts of money or time that
makes one happy. Giving blood, giving a few cigarettes to a
homeless person, or giving directions to a stranger on the
street are all "donations" that are associated with higher
levels of satisfaction.
Researchers have been
looking into the possible causes that might link charity and
happiness. According to their experiments, giving has a
direct affect on brain chemistry. For example, those who
give often report sensations approaching euphoria—what
psychologists call the "Helper's High." Researchers believe
that charity work promotes the secretion of endorphins,
producing a milder version of the same sensation experienced
by drug users when they inject morphine or heroin.
Giving also lowers the
levels of stress hormones that cause sadness and distress.
In an experiment at Duke University in 1998, adults were
asked to massage babies—ostensibly an act of pure compassion
since it involves no hope of reward, not even a simple "thank
you." After having performed the massages, the adults had
markedly lower levels of stress hormones, of adrenaline, and
of norepinephrine in their brains.
As far as Brooks is
concerned, the research speaks for itself: giving is not
just good for your favourite cause; it is also good for you.
For easing tension and depression, giving is probably better
than anything your doctor could prescribe.
The State Makes Us Miserable
If giving makes us happy, why then do we not give more? One
reason that jumps out when it comes to volunteer work is a
lack of time. Since we are always scrambling to get
everything done that needs to get done, giving time is not
that easy. It is difficult to give time because we don't
seem to have enough of it, but also because most of the
sectors where volunteering would be welcome are monopolized