When we asked our survey participants what they thought the most valuable experience of their lives were, thousands replied with an example of giving back or helping others.
“My family took in refugees from Ukraine and it completely changed my perspective on life, the world, and the resilience of humanity.” - Eric, Miami
“I volunteered as a Big Brother to a child here in Chicago for many years and was able to mentor him—now he has his own family and is a successful environmental lawyer!” - Tim, Chicago
“I train dogs for the blind and it’s not only been the most fun and adorable experience but it makes me feel good that they’re going on to help others.” - Jesse, Raleigh
“In college, I was able to stay in Nepal for free in exchange for teaching English to kids, and it was not only the most fun time of my life but also the most eye opening.” - Kimberly, Atlanta
“My greatest memory was when I built a well in Ethiopia, to see the joy from the local people made me tear up and it made me feel like I had a real impact.” - William, Boston
“I was an elementary school art teacher for 30 years and I loved helping kids discover their creativity and passions.” - Mary, Cleveland
“When my sister passed away suddenly, I adopted her daughter and was able to help her have a fulfilling life, even though the circumstances were awful.” - Joann, Boulder
“I worked as a park ranger in Yellowstone when I was younger, and I loved protecting Mother Earth and seeing the joy it brought the families who visited.” - Bob, Big Sky
We weren’t surprised—we’ve experienced the value of giving first hand, many times over. Maybe you have too. But until we did some research, we had no idea just how deeply giving can affect the giver.
You already know that serving others feels good. But that warm glow isn’t in your imagination—it’s actually measurable in your body. When you give to others, your brain releases all kinds of feel-good hormones (just like novel experiences, but apparently even more). Giving is associated with lower stress and blood pressure, as well as less depression. One study found that seniors who volunteered tended to live longer, even after accounting for their age, health status, and lifestyle habits.
On the emotional side, researchers consistently find that giving leads to greater happiness and satisfaction. One study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology found that people who spent money on others reported higher levels of happiness than those who spent money on themselves. Another study published in the journal BMC Public Health found that people who volunteered had lower levels of depression and higher levels of well-being compared to those who didn't volunteer. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who performed acts of kindness for others experienced an increase in positive emotions and satisfaction, and a decrease in negative emotions.
Forget about retail therapy—the fun of a new gadget or outfit fades shockingly fast, but the joy of giving to others sticks around.
It seems logical, but many religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions teach that giving leads to prosperity, not the other way around. There’s scientific evidence to support this idea. One study found that the act of giving appears to have a positive influence on income—not just a correlation but an actual causal effect.
What’s amazing is that this appears to be a universal feature of humanity. Experiments have shown that people all over the world, living in very different circumstances and cultures, feel the emotional benefits of helping others. Even people who have little to give find happiness in sharing what they do have, as do those who have abundant resources. And while different cultures may take different views on the importance of the individual versus the community, that doesn’t seem to change the fact that it simply feels good to help your fellow humans.
About Bridget Hilton
Bridget Hilton creates tools to help teams and leaders connect in the workplace through rich experiences and shared goals. Her keynote helps Fortune 500 companies navigate topics of mental health and wellness, burnout, employee belonging and connection, inspiration, motivation, and goal setting. Her book Experiential Billionaire and card deck Treasure Maps is out now. She is located in Los Angeles, CA and is booking keynotes and workshops worldwide now.