Why Giving Makes You Happy

When disaster strikes, people tend to rally for the common good. We reach for our wallets and give to organizations like The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, or other charity of choice.

We give because we feel empathy, of course. We can’t help but wonder what we would do in such a situation: “There but for the grace of God . . .”

But we also give because, well, it makes us feel good. Turns out that generosity makes us feel better about ourselves than individualism, than looking out for No. 1.

“Giving from your own resources, your own reserves, is tied to activation of pleasure circuits of the brain,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. “When you are more generous, when you tap into that and engage with it more, you experience more pleasure from it.”

Simon-Thomas says our generosity in the wake of disasters isn’t surprising, but rather, human nature at work. “We’re more like ants than like cats… right? Or mountain lions. We succeed through our cooperative endeavors. We live in really rich, dynamic, complex communities.”


The editorial staff of ORBITER magazine humbly pursues life's Big Questions, illuminating the human condition and our place in the universe.