Hey, handsome! You know who you are. You’re a charitable donor to at least one worthy cause you support.
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Arthur C. Brooks, the head of a nonprofit organization, accumulated a wealth of data to support the conclusion that giving to charity makes us happier, healthier, and yes, even better-looking.
First, according to one study cited by Brooks, happiness and giving are strongly correlated. A survey by the University of Chicago showed that charitable givers are 43% more likely to say they are “very happy” than non-givers. By contrast, non-givers are 3.5 times more likely to say they are “not happy at all.” Wow!
But is it really charitable giving that makes us happier, or is it the reverse? Another study provided one answer. Researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia found that the amount of money subjects spent on themselves was “inconsequential for happiness,” but spending on others resulted in significant gains in happiness.
In another study, University of Oregon researchers asked people to divide $100 between a food pantry and their own wallets. The researchers used a brain-scanner to see what happened. It turned out that choosing the charitable option lighted up the brain’s center of pleasure and reward, the same center that lights up because of pleasurable music, addictive drugs, and a mother’s bond with her children.
Are we also healthier when we act in a charitable way? Brooks cited several studies that say we are. A University of Buffalo psychologist recently studied more than 800 residents of Detroit and found that volunteering for a charity significantly lowered the association between stressful life-events and death.
Two studies conducted in California lent further support to this notion. When researchers at Stanford and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging tracked nearly 2000 older Americans over a nine-year period, they found that the dedicated volunteers in the group were 56% more likely to have survived all nine years than non-volunteers who started out in identical health. A study of teenagers yielded even more support. In 2008, the University of California reported that altruistic teenagers were physically and mentally healthier later in their lives than their less generous peers.
And now we get to our most intriguing question: Does being charitable do anything for the way you look? Dutch and British researchers recently showed women college students one of three videos featuring the same good-looking actor. In the first video, he gave generously to a man begging on the street. In the second, he appeared to give only a little money. In the third, the actor gave nothing to the panhandler. The result? The more he gave, the more handsome he appeared to the women in the study.
Brooks concluded that this finding explains why men loosen their wallets in an attempt to impress women. And he uncovered one more study to support his conclusion. A 1999 experiment conducted by the University of Liverpool showed that “eager men” on first dates gave significantly more to a panhandler than men who were already in comfortable long-term relationships.
In short, giving generously to the causes we support really does appear to boost our well-being and our esteem—even our appearance–in the eyes of others. Although I have reservations about some of the techniques used by charities to pry money from us (see “Why Am I Suddenly a Member?” found elsewhere on this blog), I wholeheartedly support charitable giving and volunteering on behalf of worthy causes.
The charitable men in my life have always looked good to me, and as I’ve gotten older, I find they’re looking better and better.
As for me, in addition to my feeling good about giving, I now know that it helps me look good, too.
That reminds me…where’s my checkbook?