We all know that God loves a cheerful giver, but did you know that apart from heavenly rewards, there are health rewards to being generous? We wanted to bring to you this guest post by John Cortines and Gregory Baumer, authors of our new God and Money book to shed some light on the added health benefits of giving! Hopefully you’ll look at tithing in a completely refreshed way after this!
First of all, giving is good for you. Really good for you…
The Health Benefits of Generosity
Intentional and regular practices of generosity have been associated with the release of a slew of good chemicals, including oxytocin, dopamine, and various endorphins. These chemicals are the same ones released after a hard workout or after a particularly pleasurable experience. In fact, generosity is strongly and clearly associated with a sense of purpose in life, personal happiness, and overall personal health. Giving, it turns out, lifts up human health as much as aspirin protects the heart.
Finally, giving even activates the same portion of the brain that lights up when winning the lottery or getting a raise. You may not be able to control when you get a raise, but you can feel just as good simply by engaging in regular, consistent generosity. If [philosophers] Singer, Kant, Aquinas, and Carnegie are going to make us do it, we might as well be able to enjoy it!
Not Giving Could Kill You
Conversely, a lack of giving is bad for you. Those who do not regularly give have been found to harbor higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has a linkage to everything from headaches, to stroke, to depression.
What other areas suffer when we live ungenerously? How about pain management, body temperature regulation, blood pressure, and the control of fear? Living self-indulged and self-absorbed lives is literally killing us in the affluent West. As the authors [of The Paradox of Generosity] put it:
Americans who do not give away 10 percent of their income run the significant risk of ending up less happy than they might have otherwise been. In fact, as a group they are less happy. So, whatever Americans lose by giving away 10 percent of their income is offset by the greater likelihood of being happier in life. . . . Rather than leaving generous people on the short end of an unequal bargain, practices of generosity are actually likely instead to provide generous givers with essential goods in life—happiness, health, and purpose—which money and time simply cannot buy. That is an empirical fact well worth knowing.
For many, the preceding paragraphs might be an inspiration to go write a $1,000 check in order to quickly grab the health benefits of giving, without having to change their way of thinking or living. Unfortunately, this would not work, for the same reason that eating one healthy meal will not help us shed pounds gained from ongoing poor dietary habits.
The type of generosity that is correlated with good outcomes is the kind that springs from a mindset of abundance and gratitude over the long-term, not the kind that comes from a sense of guilt or obligation. So what we need is a Gospel-centered revolution in our way of thinking! For us, this was welcome news. Having the philosophers squeeze money out of our paycheck with a moral guilt trip didn’t sound very enjoyable. If we could discover how to find this generous mindset, maybe that would be a better way to go.
To give some examples of what works and what doesn’t, simply being nice to people and smiling at strangers is not enough. Giving away 100 percent of your possessions in your will is not enough— allocating money to charity in a will is useless as far as positive outcomes go. Giving blood when your company asks you to is not enough, nor is faking a generous heart. Generosity that soothes the soul and heals the body is generosity that is integrated into one’s lifestyle, material to the giver, and joyfully done out of an attitude of abundance. These are the conclusions reached by the Science of Generosity initiative after studying more than 2,000 Americans.
Like what you read? This post is a snippet from God and Money: How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School by Gregory Baumer and John Cortines. Get your copy here today!