Want to live a happy life? A mere promise to be generous is enough as it can trigger a change in the brain areas that can make you happier, a study has shown.
The findings showed people who behaved generously were happier afterwards than those who behaved more selfishly. However, the amount of generosity did not influence the increase in contentment.
"You don't need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice," said Philippe Tobler from the University of Zurich.
The results also provided insight into the interplay between altruism and happiness.
Simply promising to behave generously activated the altruistic area of the brain and intensified the interaction between this area and the area associated with happiness.
"It is remarkable that intent alone generates a neural change before the action is actually implemented," Tobler said.
"Promising to behave generously could be used as a strategy to reinforce the desired behaviour, on the one hand, and to feel happier, on the other," he added.
For the study, detailed in the journal Nature Communications, 50 participants were promised a sum of money that they would receive in the next few weeks and were supposed to decide to spend it on someone they knew (experimental group) or on themselves (control group).
The results showed that depending on whether the people committed to generosity or selfishness, their brain areas such as the temporoparietal junction (where prosocial behaviour and generosity are processed), the ventral striatum (which is associated with happiness), and the orbitofrontal cortex (where we weigh the pros and cons during decision-making processes) interacted differently.
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