Warren Buffett is one of the richest people in the world -- the third richest, in fact, behind Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. But did you know he's also the most charitable billionaire in America? 

CNBC reported that Buffett topped the list for billionaires who gave the most since 2000 -- more than $46 billion. That's an astounding 71 percent of his fortune. If you're curious, Bezos, Amazon's chief, came in dead last, giving less than 0.1 percent of his net worth to charity.

Putting his money where his mouth is, Buffett once famously challenged the extremely wealthy when he declared:

"If you're in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent."

Walking the talk along with Bill Gates, Buffett founded  The Giving Pledge -- a commitment by more than 100 billionaires (including himself) in that illustrious 1 percent group to give their fortunes away to change the world. 

OK, time for a reality check for the 99 percent wondering, what does this have to do with me?

What Buffett is getting at is that, whatever your income level, giving back to society and paying it forward makes the world go around. 

And, as it turns out, science affirms that we can enrich our own lives with our generosity -- whatever the means or amount. Lets take a look at how it can transform us.

Giving makes us feel good, which increases our happiness

A 2008 Harvard Business School study found that people are happier when they spend money on others versus on themselves. According to the report on the study, 632 Americans were asked how much they made annually; how much they spent each month on bills, expenses, and gifts for themselves; and what they spent monthly on gifts for other people and donations to charities. They were also asked to rate their level of happiness.

Those who spent more on others reported a greater level of happiness, while how much they spent on themselves had no impact on happiness.

Another test at a Boston-based company, also conducted by Harvard Business School, revealed that employees who spent their bonuses (which averaged averaged about $5,000) on others registered a higher level of happiness than those who spent it on themselves. Additionally, the actual size of the bonus appeared to have no influence on a person's happiness.

"People were just as happy whether they received $3,000 or $8,000. All that mattered was the percent spent on other people," concluded Michael Norton, one of the study's authors.

Our biology has a lot to do with how we feel when we give. In a 2006 study at the National Institutes of Health, it was found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a "warm glow" effect -- that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you give someone a gift. 

Giving leads to better health

In his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University, writes: "The startling findings from our many studies demonstrate that if you engage in helping activities as a teen, you will still be reaping health benefits 60 or 70 years later. Generous behavior is closely associated with reduced risk of illness and mortality and lower rates of depression."

Scientific American reported on a study where people who gave away money had lower levels of cortisol -- the stress hormone. On the flip side, stingy people who chose to keep more money for themselves in the experiment felt increasingly ashamed of their stinginess, which led to higher levels of cortisol.

Giving benefits all.

When you give, your generosity is likely to be reciprocated. Several studies suggest that giving begets giving -- sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else. It's simply contagious.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that the act of generosity by one person can cause a ripple effect for generous acts of giving by many, toward different people.

As a result, "each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met," write the study's authors.

9 creative ways to give generously

Maya Angelou was right on the money when she said, "No one has ever become poor from giving." If money, however, is an obstacle in your current circumstance, there are a plethora of ways you can show generosity to the "other 99 percent" in your cities, communities, and neighborhoods. Consider giving and impacting the world around you in these manners:

  • Fundraise to support local nonprofits and schools through "passive giving" programs.
  • 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 center.

  • Plan a random giving day by breaking $20 into dollar bills and giving them away throughout the day to those who could use a buck.

  • 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. Check your garage, attic, or basement.

  • Do you exercise? Work out with Charity Mile. This app allows you to earn sponsorships on behalf of charities while walking, running, or biking. Run a mile, a charity gets 25 cents.

  • Donate a photo. The basic idea behind Donate A Photo is you take a picture, share it through the app, and earn $1 towards your selected charity, up to once per day.

  • Make Amazon Prime purchases with AmazonSmile. You'll be prompted to select a charity of your choice, and Amazon will donate 0.5 percent from your purchase to your chosen charity. 

Have anything to add to this list? Pay it forward and leave a comment.

Published on: Apr 23, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.