Why so happy?

Do you look forward to shopping for baby gifts? Maybe you get a little rush when you pick up a bouquet of flowers for a friend on the way to meet her for lunch. Or you seem to have more energy when you are raking leaves at a family gathering, volunteering at your children's school, or walking a 5K with your whole family to support children with genetic disabilities.

Or perhaps you feel cheerful as you wrap your kids' birthday presents or help them set up a lemonade stand to raise money for an animal shelter. And you get an extra spring in your step when you mail a donation to your favorite charity.

If things like this happen to you, you are not alone! In fact, research shows that you have every reason to feel good. Because doing good does feel good, scientifically speaking.

According to studies at the University of California, people categorized as “grateful” reported feeling 25 percent more happiness and energy—and 20 percent less envy and resentment—than ungrateful people. And a study released earlier this month tells us that "prosocial spending"--spending money to benefit others--shows positive signs of increasing happiness. Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and Harvard Business School recently found evidence that "how people spend their money" plays a role in happiness; specifically, those who "spend money on others report more happiness." It's true of adults around the world, and both physical and mental benefits are observed. The "warm glow of giving" can even be seen in toddlers!

What kind of giving boosts happiness the most? That, according to researchers, would be the categories of "doing good" that are most closely related to satisfying the basic human needs of "relatedness, competence, and autonomy." Donating to a charity of your choice, helping a neighbor, learning a few new recycling protocols, participating in a community event, purchasing a product that helps support a cause that has touched your family, serving on a committee to share your talent. It's all good, and good for you, too.

So, next time you need a mood booster (instead of reaching for that big slice of cake?), try doing a little good.

SourceProsocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off, Elizabeth W. DunnLara B. AkninMichael I. Norton Current Directions in Psychological Science, February 2014 vol. 23 no. 141-47.