What’s so Important About Being Generous?

The holidays are coming, and you know what that means: presents. But what you may not know is that generosity is correlated with happiness. Konow and Earley’s scientific study “The Hedonistic Paradox: Is Homo Economicus Happier?” tackles what it is about giving gifts that helps us to feel good about ourselves.  Person holding a wrapped gift

The “paradox of hedonism” plays an important role. A hedonist is someone who thinks the pursuit of pleasure is better than all else in life. The paradox is that someone who only goes searching for pleasure (or happiness, in this case) will never truly find it. On the other hand, someone who holds a different pursuit as the highest ideal — say, looking out for the needs of others — will find happiness along the way by accident.

How does this relate to presents? The research found that people didn’t become happier just by giving gifts. There’s no way to “cheat” your way to true happiness by giving a bunch of stuff away all at once. Instead, you have to adopt a long-term habit of recognizing when generosity could make a difference. Sometimes it might be to help someone in need, sometimes to thank a friend and other times it might just be a surprise to make someone’s day.  The most important part about giving gifts isn’t the gifts themselves, it’s the thought you put behind them!

So, how do you focus on the thoughtful part of generosity? Here are some ideas to get you started:

Volunteer. There are opportunities all around to do some good for your community by volunteering. The rewards might not be obvious at first — you might end up feeling like it’s all just unpaid work. Try not to get caught up in this feeling, because you’ll miss out on some great opportunities. You could end up doing something fun, like DJ-ing for a student radio station or helping your neighbors put on a community holiday party. Just because you’re having fun doesn’t mean it’s not generosity: you’re still donating your time and labor.

Always go above and beyond to contribute to groups you belong to. This might seem vague, so here’s an example. Say you’re hanging out with five friends and four want to go see a movie. The remaining friend says he’ll catch up with the group later because he doesn’t have the money. Offer to buy him a ticket so the group can stick together.

Donate in someone else’s name. Friends your age might not appreciate this as much, but people older than you will usually be very impressed at the thought. Suppose you have a history teacher who you know admires the courage of the armed forces. If you know her birthday is coming up, donate some money to a veteran’s association in her name, even if it’s just a small amount. It’s great that you helped out the veterans a little, but the real gift is the consideration for her interests. She’ll definitely appreciate it more than a simple gift card.