You’re probably looking forward to a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving, while already starting to plan your holiday shopping on Black Friday. You may have also heard about Giving Tuesday, the annual Tuesday designated to giving to others.
You might be thinking of donating to charity or buying toys for your local giving tree. You might even be aware of a good feeling inside that comes along with giving. But what does research in psychology say about this? How does this line up with faith-based practices?
“It is in giving that we receive”
In St. Francis’ prayer, we recite, “It is in giving that we receive.” What exactly was St. Francis talking about? We can give canned vegetables and peanut butter to the local food drive, but we’re not receiving anything concrete in doing so. So what is it that we’re receiving when we give? What was St. Francis talking about?
Biblical passages about giving
St. Francis’ assertion didn’t come out of nowhere. Throughout the Bible, we’re instructed to give and told that we’ll be blessed when we do. For example, in Proverbs, we read:
Whoever confers benefits will be amply enriched,
and whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Whoever hoards grain, the people curse,
but blessings are on the head of one who distributes it! (Proverbs 11:25-26)
Moreover, when Paul addresses the disciples in Acts of the Apostles, he refers to Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
So what are the blessings we receive when we give?
Blessings in giving
We don’t know all the blessings we’ll receive when we give, but we can gain some insight from psychological research demonstrating the benefits of giving.
Happiness and well-being
Interestingly, research shows that charitable giving is related to increases in happiness and well-being (for review, see Curry et al., 2018).
Brain regions recruited during giving
Neuroimaging work supports this conclusion as well. In fact, research shows that charitable giving actually recruits brain regions involved in reward—including the ventral tegmental area and the striatum (Moll et al., 2006). Interestingly, these brain regions also activate upon receipt of other rewards, such as money, food, and sex (Delado, 2007). The same study showed that charitable giving recruited the subgenual area, a part of the brain involved in social attachment and closeness to others (Bartels & Zeki, 2004).
Giving this Giving Tuesday
Given that we experience a boost in happiness and well-being, not to mention the benefits for those whose needs are met, we may want to consider giving to others this holiday season.
If you’re looking for a way to give, you might want to consider donating to the Salesian Missions, who serve those in need all over the world; Along the Way, which provides childcare and support to single mothers; or Newark’s Science and Sustainability, which invites Newark residents and others to generate sustainable food sources throughout the city.
Flourishing as One
These are just some ideas. But remember, each time you encounter another person and give to them, you’re likely to experience a boost in your own well-being. It doesn’t mean that you’re giving to others for any selfish reasons; rather, it shows that we’re all connected with each other. When I help you, we’re both strengthened. We depend upon each other. We are created to flourish in this world together—with each other—as One.
Happy, well, and connected to others
All in all, we find some overlap between these empirical psychological studies and religious practices, pointing to truth which is evident across disciplines.
So the next time you hear about a faith-based practice, you might wonder: Is this practice truly good for me? Will it help me flourish? Will it strengthen me? If so, it might be worth a try. And in doing so, you just might find that you’re feeling happy, well, and connected to others.
Bartels, A., & Zeki, S. (2004). The neural correlates of maternal and romantic love. Neuroimage, 21(3), 1155-1166.
Curry, O. S., Rowland, L. A., Van Lissa, C. J., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 320-329.
Delgado, M. R. (2007). Reward‐related responses in the human striatum. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1104(1), 70-88.
Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006). Human fronto–mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(42), 15623-15628.