Whether you’re doing someone a simple favor or buying a gift for a friend, small acts of kindness can go a long way.
In a recent study by researchers at the University of Zurich, “A Neural Link Between Generosity and Happiness,” scientists conducted an experiment using “functional magnetic resonance imaging” (fMRI) to understand how small acts of generosity relate to happiness and illuminate certain areas of the brain. The scientists saw a relationship between generosity and happiness, noticing a “warm glow” in the brain as a result of completing acts of kindness.
In the experiment, one group of participants were instructed to be generous to others and spend money on something nice for someone else. To the contrary, another group was told to be selfish and only generous towards themselves. Each person was given money and then asked to make various decisions that would demonstrate the neural effects of their generous or selfish behaviors.
When people were selfless and generous towards others, their happiness levels increased, which the scientists saw when areas of the brain including the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex (OCF) would light up. These areas were affected when people felt rewarded for doing something nice for others. To the contrary, people whose actions were greedy and selfish demonstrated far less brain activity and these areas of the brain did not experience that “warm glow.”
However, it didn’t matter how great someone’s act of generosity was, it only mattered that they were being generous in some way. Even the smallest act of kindness would generate the same degree of contentment as larger ones.
"You don't need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice," lead research Philippe Tobler said in a statement.
It also turns out, you don’t need to necessarily pursue an act of generosity to feel happy -- verbally committing to being more generous will also result in that “warm glow” in areas of the brain, thus increasing happiness levels.