When it comes to money, are we happier spending on ourselves than on others?

You’re given $100 and asked to split this between yourself and a local food bank. It’s been a hard day and you could do with a pick me-up.

According to a study by the University of Oregon, that’s exactly when you ought to give your cash away. Participants of the study undertaken by the University of Oregon were given MRIs which revealed that when the research participants gave the full amount to the foodbank they received a great wave of satisfaction – similar to that of an amazing meal or viewing a beautiful piece of art.

Positive brain pathways

This study is part of a growing body of literature on the physical and mental health benefits of charitable giving and socially conscious spending.

“To economists, the surprising thing is that we actually see people getting rewards as they give up money,” said Dr William Harbaugh, professor of economics and first author of the study.

“On top of that, people experience even more brain activation when they give voluntarily.”

This is caused by the pleasure systems in our brain that are activated when supporting others. As it turns out, knowing that we acted to improve the life of another is enough to boost our own self esteem and our sense of purpose.

Psychologists go as far to say that pro-social spending distracts the giver from their own problems and shifts focus to wider hope and optimism.

Not just mind games

It’s not surprising that when done over long periods, this activity actively reduces exposure to stress hormones and strengthens immunity.

When surveying the correlation between charitable giving and the overall health of households, Economic Professor Baris Yörük found that those households that gave had notably lower probability of high blood pressure, cancer and heart attack. In these cases the health benefits of giving has been equated to that of avoiding obesity and smoking.

And it’s not just those in their later life who stand to benefit. Studies in 2012 found these benefits go all the way back to toddlers who also display greater happiness when giving than receiving.

Does size really matter?

As a good rule of thumb, the emotional rewards of giving goes as far as we can appreciate the impact it has. Harvard’s study into giving behaviour really brought this home by examining the correlation between mental reward and knowing the impact your donation has.

Whether research participants saw the community impact firsthand or simply knew of how their funds were being used didn’t matter. What mattered was that they felt their contribution had made a positive difference.

Sydney positive psychology expert Dr Tony Grant at the University of Sydney also notes that focusing on why you’re giving is important. “Your attention is placed on making other people feel better, not on worrying about yourself.”

In all its forms

There are many ways to give altruistically and reap these benefits. Sharing time, money or expertise. Donating goods or services. These are all proven methods to lift spirits and boost morale.

The key determinants of emotional reward boils down to altruism itself. It’s those who are instructed that they should partake – those don’t feel they have a choice – who are far less likely to receive the pleasures and rewards from doing so.

Maximise your health benefits!

Nurturing altruistic intention may sound like a ‘nice to have’, and a pampering of the privileged – especially when you consider the sheer need for the donations themselves. The mental and physical rewards that are at stake however, emphasise the importance of being conscious in giving and maximise the benefits it can have on your life also.

Find an avenue where you can have greatest impact on others, and tap into these health benefits today.

Here are some ideas!

  • Surprise someone at work with a treat
  • Setup a fundraiser at your work
  • Find a charity that inspires your support
  • Pick up rubbish when you’re next at the beach
  • Acknowledge someone’s good work
  • Donate blood and donate time
  • Reach out to members of your community who might be lonely and arrange to have a cup of tea with them once a month