Why Helping Others Makes You Happier

May 26, 2024

Helping Others = Happiness!

We all love watching those sappy videos of people doing random acts of kindness — paying for someone’s coffee, leaving crazy tips, buying gifts for strangers.

You know the drill.

There’s just something so wonderfully heartwarming about witnessing simple generosity, right? 

Right — but the science behind it all tells that there’s MUCH more going on than just feeling the warm fuzzies for a few minutes. 

Turns out, helping others is one of the keys to lasting happiness.


barista lady being given a tip and looking happy

The Science of Generosity

New research from some smart folks at the University of Chicago and Northwestern suggests that the key to lasting happiness might not be in treating yourself, but in giving to others.

Now, before you roll your eyes and think “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that one before,” let me break it down for you. 

In one experiment, they gave 96 people $5 a day for five days.

Simple enough. 

But here’s the twist:  They randomly assigned some people to spend that $5 on THEMSELVES, and others to spend it on SOMEONE ELSE (tipping a barista, donating to charity, whatever).

Either way, they had to do the exact same thing every day.

Now, you’d probably expect the people spending on themselves to be happier by the end, right?


The researchers found that for the folks giving to others, their happiness levels didn’t decline at all over those five days. In fact, the joy they felt from giving on day five was just as strong as it was on day one.

But why?

Well, a few reasons:

1. Helping others makes you feel more connected, part of a community. And as social creatures, we need that bond.

2. There’s an ego boost to being generous and prosocial—it makes you feel good about yourself as a person.

3. We adapt really quickly to the good things we get for ourselves. But with giving, there’s no real “end point” to get accustomed to.

You can check out a summary of the research here,

So basically, while getting nice things for yourself provides a quick rush of joy, it fades fast.

Your greedy brain just gets used to it.

But giving is like. . . an Everlasting Happiness Gobstopper or something.

The good feelings last MUCH longer.

Random Acts of Kindness

That big fat happiness hit is part of the reason why those random act of kindness videos are so engaging and make us feel so good.

It’s instinctual

Sure, they give us a second-hand dose of dopamine — those feel-good vibes — but they also remind us that being a giver, and making someone else’s day a little brighter through our own actions, is a HUGE part of what makes life truly meaningful.

The fact is: Happiness from giving compounds over time.

a graph with a positive upwards trend with smiley emojis as plot points

From small acts to big donations, giving to others ends up paying us back several times over — and then some. 

Buddhist Teachings on Giving

The idea of cultivating generosity is central to Theravada Buddhist philosophy.

For any of you who’ve travelled to Thailand and spent any time here, you’ll probably have realized how generous Thai people are.

It’s something that Thais are brought up to do from a very early age. 

Giving to monks on their alms round, helping parents around the house, or making merit by donating to temples or even buying fish from the market and releasing them into the river are all ways that children are taught to give without expecting anything in return (except some ‘good karma’ in some cases) 

Giving without expecting anything for yourself is considered one of the key virtues and spiritual practices.

It’s called ‘dana‘.

Buddhists — along with lots of other spiritual traditions — have been practicing ‘dana‘ in one way or another for thousands of years already.

The Wrap

So, the next time you’re feeling meh and you get a little windfall of cash, maybe don’t buy another dopamine-hitting gadget or treat for yourself.

Instead, put a smile on someone else’s face and feel that warm glow for days to follow. 

Ultimately, it really IS better to give than to receive.


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