Why Does “Giving” Make You Happy?

By: Sonali, Diamond

Published On: December 29, 2021

There is an age-old saying that goes, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” 


Humans are social creatures and for most of us, helping others just feels like the right thing to do. In fact, a lot of research proves that offering and receiving help have a positive effect on an individual’s physical and mental health as well. Ballatt and Campling in their 2011 book, Intelligent Kindness: Reforming the Culture of Healthcare discussed the impact of kindness on our brain. For example, compared to less altruistic people, altruistic individuals (those who selflessly help others) showed more activity in their posterior superior temporal cortex. This part of the brain is activated when the brain is trying to decipher social relations or tries to extract meaning from the things we see. Studies also found that kindness in a medical setting can even help people heal!



 Another study reports,

“We find consistent behavioral and neural evidence that in physically threatening situations acting altruistically can relieve painful feelings in human performers.”

Furthermore, altruistic behavior reduces physical pain as seen in an activity where participants were asked to donate to orphans. Those who did donate experienced less pain from electric shocks than those who didn’t. 



The Science Behind ‘Happiness’


Any act of kindness releases hormones that alleviate our mood and overall well-being. One such hormone is Oxytocin that is sometimes referred to as the ‘love hormone’ or the ‘cuddle hormone’, which is released by the pituitary gland in response to sensory stimulation through various interactive behaviors. Oxytocin has an integral role in forming strong social bonds and building deeper trust. Having a positive social interaction greatly helps in the production of oxytocin.



The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest studies on happiness that took over 75 years to complete, found that maintaining strong connections in the community and the act of helping makes people happier, physically healthier, and live longer. 


Serotonin: The next is Serotonin which is considered to be the key hormone of happiness as it has a huge impact on mood regulation, prevents depression, and also helps in making people happy and sociable. Serotonin provides us with that sense of accomplishment after we have achieved something or have helped someone. 


Dopamine: Next in line is Dopamine, which is a pleasure hormone that is usually released while striving towards a goal. It is a neurotransmitter that has an effect on various aspects of the body like mood, sleep, memory, and learning.



When looking at happiness objectively, these three hormones a.k.a the happiness trifecta can be your go-to best friends as they also counteract the effect of Cortisol, a stress hormone! Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Dopamine are also collectively referred to as the ‘Helper’s High.’ They can be described as that rush of feeling that one experiences after an act of kindness, donating money to a social cause or giving your time to a charitable cause. 


What Does Giving or Receiving Help Do For Your Health?


In 2011, a researcher duo Jamil Zaki and Jason Mitchell performed a study on altruism - after which they proposed a theory that ‘prosocial behavior is not simply a response to external pressure, but instead represents an intrinsic, and intrinsically social, class of reward.’ 



So, it is evident that extending support towards one in need can be highly rewarding for our mind and body with the help of the happiness trifecta.

 "The trick you need to know: Acts of kindness have to be repeated. Biochemically, you can't live on the 3-to-4 minute oxytocin boost that comes from a single act."

- Dr IsHak, a professor of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai. 

The repeated act of kindness is definitely beneficial as studies prove that volunteering has often been proposed as a public health intervention due to the positive health benefits experienced by the volunteers. 



The Gift That Gives BACK!

One way of consistent giving is through medical crowdfunding on ImpactGuru. When many generous people come together with their small bit of contribution to achieve a financial goal that is health-oriented, it can be called medical crowdfunding. One such initiative is monthly giving that helps critical patients in India receive urgent and quality treatment. This initiative opens up access to healthcare to a wider percentage of the population. Our collective efforts can take us one step closer to a world where patients do not lose their lives to lack of funds. 



To know more about making healthcare accessible, click here

You can read more about the science of happiness here: 

Why Giving Is Good For Your Health: The Science Behind It






Александрович, П. С. (2018). Hormones of Happiness.

Baixauli Gallego, E. (2017). Happiness: role of dopamine and serotonin on mood and negative emotions. Emergency Medicine (Los Angeles), 2017, vol. 6, num. 2, p. 33-51.

Front. Psychol., 12 January 2015


Wang, Y., Ge, J., Zhang, H., Wang, H., & Xie, X. (2020). Altruistic behaviors relieve physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(2), 950-958.


Images: Unsplash