Feeling Good About Giving

Feeling Good About Giving

© GLOW IMAGES Models used for illustrative purposes

by Don Ingwerson

Now that Christmas is over, I’ve been thinking about how giving and happiness relate. Not so long ago our family decided to adopt a family in need during the holiday season. It took a while to find a community agency that had a list of needy families, but with persistence we got the name of a family and the names and ages of the children. Christmas Eve we took our gifts to our adopted family.

They spoke little English and we spoke little Spanish, so communication was more felt than spoken. After we presented our gifts and visited for a while we prepared to leave, but this family invited us to join them in a community dinner around an outside fire pit. Sharing in that dinner, I felt that we had received more than we had given, and I deeply felt the good for my fellow man. Each Christmas, I find my thought returning to the family we shared Christmas with that evening. Yet, there have been other times when giving didn’t result in the same sense of satisfaction or happiness, and I wondered why.

This past week I reviewed an abstract of a study on the subject of giving and I was a little surprised by what it said. For instance, the evidence “only weakly supported the idea” that helping others leads to higher levels of happiness for the one giving. It went on to say that when you combine happiness and giving, the data show that happier people give more, and giving makes happy people happier. The research showed that after experiencing a positive event of receiving something, those receiving it were happier and more likely to help others, and those who felt good continued to be more helpful to others. (Isen and Levin, 1972)

This study about giving raises some interesting points. For instance, to give just because it seems the right thing to do, or to satisfy someone’s expectations does not increase the giver’s happiness. But when you combine an existing happy attitude with giving, the giver’s happiness is increased. (This seems to work in a circular motion. A happy person is inclined to give more and a happy person tends to have better health. But to give to achieve happiness or healthy does not seem to work.)

Another important aspect of giving is how the giver is rewarded. This study indicated that to reward the giver with extrinsic rewards might affect his altruistic feelings and actually reduce giving long term. We get a glimpse of why intrinsic rewards for giving tend to support long term giving in a study by Professor Emmons, U.C. Davis Psychologist and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. He has found that “those who are grateful and express gratitude improved their happiness score by 25%.”

Since being grateful improves one’s happiness, these same qualities reportedly have a positive effect on one’s health.

I’ve thought a lot about why someone would feel like giving or helping and at other times would not feel like giving, even though the cause involved is thought to be important. According to David Aderman (1972) only those individuals with a positive mood are more likely to help others, and this upbeat mood increases altruism, feelings of competence, and volunteerism.

For myself, I found that giving to the family in need was of personal importance and not just an activity. Because this activity stirred my innermost feelings, it made me happier and my mood was more positive. My happiness with what I was doing had a positive effect on me and on my sense of health. But each act of giving must stir your innermost feelings if giving is to be meaningful and health giving.

Article first published in Blogcritics and previously published January 12, 2012.

About the author

Don Ingwerson Don regularly blogs on health and spirituality and lives in Laguna Beach with his wife - both Christian Science practitioners. He brings his years serving the public in education to his work as a liaison of Christian Science, where he maintains contacts with the media and legislative offices.


  1. Jim Raynesford says

    I’ve found that I love to give, because giving makes me feel rich. And I love to share in the joy that my giving may give to others. Another aspect of giving that I have learned is that I come to church to give, not to get, and this enriches my church experience. And I come away from church activities feeling richer, satisfied, happy grateful for the opportunity to take part in church. This is why I think some people miss out on joining church, thinking that they don’t need church because they can study at home. But they don’t realize that church activity gives an opportunity to give, that enriches one. And also church activity sometimes requires one to learn to co-operate with others, which sometimes requires unselfishness which one might not learn studying at home.

  2. says

    I have always been a giver because it makes me feel good. I love people and I love to share when I am able. I remember one very meaningful giving I did one Christmas years ago. I was in a bread story getting bread for the week and heard the lady in front of me talking to the cashier and saying how she lost her cane, actually someone took it and she needed to get another one at the medical supply store but it was raining so she would probably have to wait as it was several miles away. I jumped into the conversation and said I would be happy to drive her if whe could wait a few minutes. She said “thank you” and waited until I was finished paying for my bread.

    I then drove her the 2 miles down to the med supply store and waited in the car for her. When she came out she had tears in her eyes. When I asked her why she didn’t have a cane with her she said her medicare only provided one for her every two years and she only had the only stolen one for one year. I said I was sorry and started the car, drove out on to the street and it occurred to me to ask her how much they were. When she said $20.00 I could not believe my ears. I said, “WHAT? and they wouldn’t give you one even though it was stolen?” I immediately turned the car around and drive back to the store saying, “This is ridiculous, I’ll buy you one, you need it.” We walked back into the store and I told her to pick out whichever one she wanted and I paid for it. When we got back to the car she said, “No one has ever done anything like that for me before. You don’t even know me.” I said, “Yes I do, you are a child of God and you deserve to have what you need.” She hugged me and cried tears of joy this time. As I drove her back to her apartment she told me I was her Christmas Angel and couldn’t stop thanking me. I never saw her again at the bread store but the cashier who knew her told me she kept telling everyone about her Christmas Angel. That just warmed my heart. When I think back about that I have ask myself how could I not do that?

    To me that was one of the best Christmas’ ever and one I will always remember. To make someone else happy is to make oneself happy. At least that’s my perspective.

  3. Heidi says

    Very interesting ideas especially regarding the importance of thinking about our motives behind giving! Thank you.

  4. Tracy says

    Thank you so much for this article! I love the ideas of feeling just as blessed while giving as we do when receiving. :)

  5. Anne from Agoura says

    Thank you, Don, and thank you, Jim and Pamela!
    Re: giving by being at church, we have had several new visitors who felt our tangible care for them on a Wednesday evening. The cost to us was a couple of hours of an evening. We were all richer with feeling God’s Love. This would not have been the same if we all stayed home.
    And Pamela’s active living of God’s love in such a direct, affordable, and tangible way is inspiring. Wow!