Want To Be A Happier Person? It's All About This One Behavior

 
Something to consider next time you go on a retail therapy sesh.

Something to consider next time you go on a retail therapy sesh.

If you need a pick-me-up, try picking up the tab.

Here’s the thing about happiness: The pursuit of it can be a real bummer. We’re inundated with messaging on how to get it and keep it, but the endless options can be a confusing mess.

We’re told to produce endorphins via exercise, but also to listen to our bodies. We’re told to eat what we want, but not stuff that makes us feel bad. We’re also told that money can’t buy it. And yet a new study published in the science journal, Nature, begs to differ. Sort of. 

In an effort to test the relationship between the “brain mechanisms that link generous behavior with increases in happiness,” the study divided individuals into two groups—an experimental group, which was prompted to spend money on other people over a period of four weeks, and a control group, which was prompted to spend money on themselves during that same time.

As it turned out, putting that hard-earned cash to work for the benefit of other people was the big winner. With the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, the study found that “generous decisions engaged the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) in the experimental more than in the control group,” and in the striatum—the reward system of your brain—“activity during generous decisions is directly related to changes in happiness.”

Those in the experimental groups also demonstrated higher increases in self-reported happiness.

The study contributes to standing research that shows the positive psychological impacts of giving gifts, in case you’ve ever felt weird about how much time and energy you spend on finding the world’s cutest onesie for your bestie’s newborn.

All of which is to say there’s no shame in adopting the Donna and Tom philosophy from Parks and Rec.

But next time you’ve got a mean case of the blues, rather than going all in for that pair of shoes you think will make you feel better, it might be worth it to take your bestie out to lunch instead.

When in doubt, think about Oprah and how when she does this:

It leads to this:

Alas, not everyone is Oprah, and as such, not everyone has the means to be showering people with gifts all the time. But that's OK: "You don't need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice," says Professor Phillipe Tobler of the University of Zurich, one of the lead researchers on the study. 

And even more good news: This generation is already keener on the idea of giving back than those before them. Which means that decision to buy a round of drinks for everyone in the bar at last call on Saturday was, in fact, an excellent idea.

Words: Deena Drewis
Photos: Daria Kobayashi Ritch/Giphy