It's official: studies have found that the old adage "it's better to give than to receive" is correct! Spending money on others or giving to charity puts a bigger smile on your face than buying things for yourself.
Research by social psychologist Liz Dunn and her colleagues, appearing in the journal Science, found that, regardless of income level, those people who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not.
Human beings are social creatures. We talk to each other, play with each other, work together and assist each other. When you share or give good things to other people freely and in abundance, it makes society a better place.
Doing something for others gives us a warm glow which feels like an all over hug. There is actually a neurological response to giving! Altruistic behaviour activates the same area of our brain associated with happiness; the body releases endorphins which react with opiate receptors in the mid-brain, leading to a feeling of euphoria. In addition to that, the production of serotonin in the body is triggered - the feel good hormone. This causes us to feel happy and experience a positive attitude. What’s more, this uplifting feeling lasts longer than the one we get when we receive something ourselves – AMAZING!
In addition to solid scientific evidence supporting the benefits of giving to others, many spiritual belief systems emphasise the importance giving in their teachings. In yoga philosophy, two of the primary principals to living a yogic lifestyle are Ahimsa and Aparigraha.
Ahimsa means "kindness". It is interpreted in many ways from literally not harming others, to being sensitive to your own wellbeing in order to be able to offer more to others. Aparigraha translates as "non-grasping" or "letting go". This reminds us to not take more than we need (from others or the earth's natural resources) and introduces the idea that we never actually "own" anything, but things simply come in and out of our lives at the right time (this includes money, objects, emotions and people!)
The Dalai Lama notes that one's own happiness is dependent on the happiness of others, observing that happiness does not come from material things but rather from a deep, genuine concern for other peoples' wellbeing.
It does not matter whether you give a lot or a little, give money, gifts or intangible things (such as time or kind words). What matters most for meaningful happiness is appreciating the importance of everything and everyone around you — family, friends, community, all beings near and far — each and every day.
There is a beautiful yoga mantra "Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu" which means “May all beings be happy and may all my thoughts, words and actions contribute in some way to the happiness of all beings.” To hear this, one of my favourite ancient chants, you can listen to Deva Premal's version on You Tube here.