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20 March 2018

It's an oft-repeated truism that giving makes you happy. Given that today (20 March) is International Day of Happiness, this is unlikely to be the only blog published that makes a connection between philanthropy and contentedness. But how well does this assumption stand up to rigour?

Well - as it turns out. Clinical studies show that making a donation to charity causes pleasure centres in the brain to light up, and that the greatest pleasure  is experienced when participants choose to make a gift at a personal financial cost. Another study found that in a randomised trail, people who were given money and asked to make a donation to charity reported feeling much happier than those who were asked to keep the same sum of money for themselves.

Furthermore, none of the above takes into account the wider benefits felt by donors. Donors and volunteers for example, often feel more connected to their community. This seemingly intangible feeling seems to be related to measurable social interactions. Our research - Britain's Civic Core - shows that the top 9% in terms of charitable activity (giving money and volunteering) in the UK are 41% more likely to say hello to their neighbours than “zero givers”.


Globally, there is a striking relationship between those countries that rank highly in terms of peoples sense of well-being, and those that see high rates of people giving money, volunteering and helping strangers every month as measured in the World Giving Index (WGI). For example, the top 10 nations The Gallup-Healthways Global Well-being Index have an average WGI score of 40%, compared to a global average of 33%. Amongst the 8 countries in the top 10 nations for well-being in the Happy Planet Index the average WGI score is 44%, a clear 11% percentage points higher than the global average. 52% of people in this group of countries reported giving money to charity in the past month according to the WGI compared to a global average of just 29%.

All this should be seen as especially significant for those hoping to influence government policies that contribute to a more enabling environment for civil society because it allows for a stronger but also more nuanced justification for such measures.

Rather than trying to justify tax incentives because the services that charities provide represent a zero sum game or better for the tax man, or even arguing, as we have and will continue to do – that civil society is healthy for democracy; we should point to the above evidence. The argument follows thusly; when people give time and money to charity or engage in philanthropy it makes them happier, better connected, healthier and more resilient. This, in turn, makes them more productive and less likely to rely on the welfare state. No brainer.

(originally published on 20 March 2015 by Adam Pickering on the Future World Giving blog)



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