If you ask people what would make them happier, you’d likely guess they’d say more money, more sleep, more holidays to Ibiza. But you’d be wrong. Scientists have discovered the key to happiness, and you might be surprised by the answer.
A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, revealed that it is in fact generosity (not Ibiza) that makes people happier.
The research, conducted at the University of Zurich, found that small acts of generosity activate certain regions of the brain associated with social behavior, happiness, and decision-making.
The study was conducted like this: researchers told 50 participants that they each had roughly $23 to spend. Half of the group’s members were instructed to use their cash to buy a gift for themselves, while the other half were told to spend the money on someone they knew.
Before they spent any money, however, everyone was asked to think about buying a present for a friend and then identify how much they would hypothetically spend on that person.
The volunteers then underwent MRI scans to measure activity in three regions of the brain associated with social behavior, happiness, and decision-making.
After performing the brain scans, the study revealed that those who had agreed to spend money on other people tended to make more generous decisions once the money was given, compared with those who had agreed to spend on themselves.
The people who pledged to spend on others also had more activation in the parts of the brain associated with altruism and happiness.
Surprisingly, the amount spent didn’t seem to have an impact on how happy people felt — it was merely the intention to be generous that kicked off those warm-and-fuzzy feelings.
“Interestingly, changes in happiness were driven by the commitment to be generous as such, independent of the absolute monetary amount spent on others,” the researchers wrote.
“Our study provides behavioral and neural evidence that supports the link between generosity and happiness,” they continued. “Our results suggest that, for a person to achieve happiness from generous behavior, the brain regions involved in empathy and social cognition need to overwrite selfish motives in reward-related brain regions.”
So if you want to get all the happiness feels, stop scrolling Instagram for your next exotic getaway and start stockpiling those random acts of kindness. Treating your bestie to a glass of fizz and your other half to a neck rub should do the trick.