We've all heard this cliché growing up -- how "it's better to give than to receive." Whether you're gainfully employed, looking for work, retired, or living off an inheritance from your rich uncle, science says the very act of giving away your money leads to more happiness.
But there's a catch.
A Harvard Business School report concluded that the emotional rewards are the greatest when our generosity is connected to others.
In other words, donating to an unfamiliar and anonymous charity doesn't raise your happiness levels as much as contributing to a cancer-stricken friend's GoFundMe Campaign does.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Happiness and Development, strongly suggests that "social giving" makes people happier, plain and simple.
This was the first study of its kind to examine how social connection helps turn generous 'prosocial' behavior -- the type that benefits another person -- into positive feelings for the donor.
The bottom line? It's the social connection tied to the giving -- whether to a person in need in your community, or a grassroots charity close to your heart -- that gives the giver the greatest psychological benefit and boost of happiness.
6 ways to give and raise your happiness levels.
Maya Angelou was right on the money when she said, "No one has ever become poor from giving." But before you think your only option to give involves whipping out the checkbook when you aren't able, there are quite a few other creative means to acting in generosity.
1. Give the gift of putting others first.
Organizational psychologist and top-rated Wharton professor Adam Grant, stated: "The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed." Grant observed that this act of generosity -- when people think bigger than themselves and put others first -- inspire greater motivation and sense of belongingness.
2. Give the gift of a "five minute favor."
"Five-minute favors" are selfless giving acts without asking for anything in return. Examples of five-minute favors include: sharing knowledge, making an introduction, serving as a reference for a person, product, or service, or recommending someone on LinkedIn, Yelp, or another social place. By paying it forward, you are more successful without expecting a quid pro quo. And you aren't just helping others in five focused minutes of giving. You are supporting the emotional spread of this practice--it becomes contagious.
3. Give through random acts of kindness.
In one study reported by Greater Good magazine, a group of employees at Coca-Cola in Spain were asked to perform five acts of kindness for their coworkers for a month -- every day things like buying coffee, writing a thank-you email, or offering encouragement. Even one month after the experiment, givers reported a higher life and job satisfaction, as well as fewer symptoms of depression. They were just plain happier.
4. Give in support of your local community.
While it's typical for many of us to associate giving to relieve hunger or poverty abroad, giving to local nonprofits and schools so they can serve their communities better can be just as powerful. For example:
- Organize a food drive with neighbors and friends on behalf of your local food bank or shelter.
Employ your skills to help job-seekers at your local library or community job center.
Purchase a booklet of bus transit passes and hand them out to people at bus stops who could use the break.
Donate the stuff you don't need or want to a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Proceeds go toward providing a decent home to those in need .
5. Give with charity apps.
Do you exercise? Work out with Charity Mile. This app allows you to earn sponsorships on behalf of charities while walking, running, or biking. If you run a mile, a charity gets 25 cents. If exercising is not your cup-of-tea, try Donate A Photo. The idea is simple: you take a picture, share it through the app, and then earn $1 toward your selected charity, up to once per day.
6. Give to something you can truly believe in.
As you do your research, stick to charities where you can see the impact of your giving, like knowing where your money will be used for tangible things people need everyday. Need an idea? Try giving to Charity: Water, a nonprofit organization that provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations (since, it has been found, 1 in 10 people around the world lack access to clean water). Finally, donate because you choose to, not because you feel pressured to do it.