Jesus told us clearly and unequivocally that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35. Personal experience has proven Paul’s quotation of Jesus to be truthful, at least for me. I have experienced it on Christmas morning with children and others I love, I have experienced it at church as I am able to join with the Lord in His kingdom work here, and I have experienced it with other gifts and donations over the years.
God gave generously to us in Genesis 1, He gave generously to us again repeatedly in the Old Testament, He gave us the greatest gift ever, Jesus, John 3:16, and He has given me His mercy more times that I can count and far more than I deserve.
That’s amazing and a huge blessing. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that as beings made in His image, we have a giving streak buried deep inside us. Now comes the neat news. Science is catching up with what we know from both the Old and New Testaments! Modern science has finally discovered that it really is a blessing to give. Isn’t it neat how science accidentally continues to verify the truth of Scripture, despite every effort of the unbelievers and scoffers.
What we see now, even from science, is that:
1. Generosity of almost every imaginable type lies deep within human nature according to a recent study by sociologists. Not surprisingly, this is being argued now as something that has evolutionary benefit for society by evolutionists at UC Berkeley. However, generosity is something that is far greater than just that.
2. Generosity has now been determined to also be something of personal benefit by giving us happiness,
3. Being generous has physical and mental health benefits, and
4. Generosity benefits individuals as well as the community.
Let’s look at each and where these “new” understandings lead us.
Generosity lies deep in our nature
Even a study from the very liberal UC Berkeley, The Science of Generosity, acknowledges that “sure enough, a host of studies have uncovered evidence that humans are biologically wired for generosity,” a reality that flies in the face of “decades of research and centuries of conventional wisdom.”
To try to eliminate any spiritual or religious impact, UC Berkeley and the University of Miami have now re-defined evolution to include generosity as a trait that favors survival. See The Evolution of Gratitude from UC Berkeley, Is Generosity An Evolutionary Trait? from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and The Evolution of Generosity: How Natural Selection Builds Devices for Benefit Delivery from the University of Miami. It is almost amusing the way the evolutionists are trying to erase over 100 years of their flawed thinking and now are aligning evolutionary thinking with what Christians have known for two thousand years, it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Of course, they try to explain their remarkable shift away with such statements as “[t]he research suggests that, in all likelihood, our propensity for gratitude really does have deep evolutionary roots …” That “evolutionary” root goes all the way back to Genesis 2!
Recent studies by a team of sociologists looking into generosity in people appears to confirm the existence of innate generosity in the human heart. In American Generosity, Patricia Shell Herzog and Heather E. Price, sociologists, teamed up to study the generosity in America from a highly scientific viewpoint. They started the introduction with a detailed definition of generosity for purposes of their study.
• Generosity is giving good things to others freely and abundantly.
• Generous behaviors are intended to enhance the well-being of others.
• However, the giver can benefit, which distinguishes generosity from pure altruism.
• Generosity can be actualized through various forms of giving.
By using detailed case examples they made the book more interesting, but there is a great deal of systematic sociological analysis. Some of what they found was a bit surprising, including their conclusion that of people who give money, 16% are Planned givers, 40% are Impulsive givers, 17% are Selective givers, and only 6% are Habitual givers. The remaining are labeled as Atypical givers and do not easily fit into any of their categories.
The authors reached some not-surprising conclusions, “People with unmet basic needs demanding attention focus mostly on protecting themselves, while people with greater resources, whose survival is less threatened, can focus on abstract ideals beyond their immediate needs.” Their view of generosity was expansive and ranged from Self-sufficiency generosity (which many would say was not generosity at all, even using the authors’ definition), to Parental-familial generosity, to Community-religious generosity, and finally Professional-lifestyle generosity.
In general, Herzog and Price were encouraging and positive about American generosity. They appear to assume that either biologically or culturally, people are innately generous in one or more of the categories of their definition of generosity.
Considering what follows, we can see why people would want to be generous.
Gratitude has personal benefit by giving us happiness
Not to be outdone, Professor Michael Norton and colleagues of his at Harvard Business School confirmed the truth of Acts 20:35 by finding that study participants were happier when they gave money to someone rather than spend it on themselves! That contradicted the participants expectations and confirmed the truth of the Bible’s core message of generosity.
Other studies have reached similar results. Giving to charity releases endorphins into the brain, giving the charitable people a positive feeling. Among runners, that rush of endorphins was labeled a “runner’s high.” Among those with charitable and altruistic hearts, it is now labeled a “helper’s high.” See the report on the 2006 study from the National Institutes of Health the title Human fronto–mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. The authors themselves described their findings as “remarkable” as they studied the neural mechanisms of charitable giving through magnetic resonance imaging. Participants in their study were given a sum of money. They consistently gave away 40% of what they were given and that their brains were positively stimulated even more by giving than by keeping their “monetary rewards.” As the researchers put it, “Remarkably, more anterior sectors of the prefrontal cortex are distinctively recruited when altruistic choices prevail over selfish material interests.”
Ultimately, they found that when people engage in charitable acts, the sections of their brains associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust are activated, creating a “warm glow.” Given this result, it should not be surprising that scientists also believe that generosity releases hormones in the brain, producing the positive feeling now named the “helper’s high.”
But you can’t stop there, because Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University reported in Psychology Today that he “has been investigating the biological basis for generosity, focusing on the neuroactive hormone oxytocin.” He began this study because he wondered if science could explain the extraordinary generosity of literally billions of dollars of wealth and time donated.
Zak’s conclusion is contrary to historical evolutionary thinking and is amazingly Biblical (his faith is unknown), “Oxytocin connects us to others and social connections are a powerful way to increase one’s own happiness. If you want to connect to others, being generous is a great start.”
Gratitude benefits our physical and mental health
Why give? Add “for your own benefit” to the long list of altruistic and Biblical answers to the question, “why give?” People who serve family, friends, and others develop a purpose and a reason for living, and that results in health benefits to those who help and serve others.
Many studies over the past 20 years show health benefits resulting from a wide variety of generous behaviors, including intercessory prayer, because volunteer service has the same benefits for physical health. Just as we receive a “helper’s high” boost of hormones when we give wealth, we also receive the same boost when we volunteer our time. There are numerous authors and studies, books, research reports and papers establishing this fact.
The 2010 Do Good Live Well Study of 4,582 Americans by United Healthcare found that people who regularly volunteer have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety and even a stronger sense of control over their chronic health conditions than the average. While the study is largely subjective in its findings, most people would prefer to be among those who receive higher ratings of their physical and emotional health – and those are the ones who volunteer their time.
In a similar vein, a 2013 Carnegie Mellon University study reported that adults over 50 who volunteered about four hours a week were 40 percent less likely than their non-volunteer counterparts to develop high blood pressure.
In the study named ”Those who help others derive significant health benefits not available to recipients”, psychologist Michael Poulin of The University of Buffalo found that if you provide tangible assistance to others, it protects your health and lengthens your own life. The greatest, but not surprising study result from his two-decade long study is that generous acts “buffer” chronic stress. Chronic stress puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:
• Digestive problems
• Heart disease
• Sleep problems
• Weight gain
• Memory and concentration impairment
In Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post who is a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University, writes that giving to others increases health benefits in people with chronic illness, even HIV and multiple sclerosis. Post’s goal was “to prove once and for all the life-enhancing benefits of caring, kindness, and compassion.” He succeeded as he even included a 50-year study showing that people who are giving during their high school years are healthier, both physically and mentally, throughout their lives.
University of Wisconsin Health Psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, PhD writes that “[k]indness and generosity have many health benefits including lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and depression, and enhancing overall satisfaction in life …” She adds, “When you commit to being kind, you can help make the world a better place and improve your own health.”
In a 1999 study, Volunteering has also been shown to have benefits for volunteers’ psychological well-being, lead researcher Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkeley, reported that “high volunteers”, elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations, had a 63 percent lower mortality than non-volunteers over a five-year period. After adjusting the figures to account for age, exercise habits, general health, and negative health habits like smoking, the rate was still 44%. Who wouldn’t want to improve his or her five-year mortality risk by 44 or more per cent?
Serving family and friends has health benefits
Not surprisingly, serving family and friends has similar health benefits despite the stress of becoming a family care-giver.
People who provided practical help to friends, relatives, or neighbors, or who gave emotional support to their spouses, had a reduced mortality risk over a five-year period. The benefit was not limited to one condition, but was spread across the same list of health risks from stress listed above and more. This was based upon Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan saw similar results in her 2003 study of more than 8,200 respondents, Caregiving Behavior Is Associated With Decreased Mortality Risk. It should be noted that one category of caregivers had an increased mortality rate, and that was one spouse caring for the other. The researchers believed that bereavement and its negative health effects offset the benefits of giving care.
The researchers noted the same correlation between stress, hormones and health, and believed that hormones “causally linked to helping behavior, such as oxytocin, decrease activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (stress) axis, and contribute to cellular repair and storage of cell nutrients.” In lay terms, helping behavior has health benefits.
Generosity benefits community as well as individuals
Even going back to the studies first mentioned above, The Evolution of Gratitude from UC Berkeley, Is Generosity An Evolutionary Trait? from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and The Evolution of Generosity: How Natural Selection Builds Devices for Benefit Delivery from the University of Miami, the reason generosity was believed to have value to the generous person was the benefit and well-being of the community.
It should come as no surprise that other researchers agree. Generosity is contagious, see Can Generosity Be Contagious? so, when people give, they and the community, organization or business benefit, because others respond to generosity and give. Sociologists Brent Simpson of the University of South Carolina and Robb Willer of Stanford, show that when you give to others, your generosity is more likely to be rewarded by others, whether the one you gave to or others who saw or were affected by the generosity. The benefits in a business, organization or community are undeniable. As Willer puts it, “those with prosocial reputations are trusted more, they are cooperated with more, and they have more influence. They are picked as partners and group leaders more often. When prosocial reputations are rewarded, cooperative behavior increases.”
It is also important that generosity usually promotes a response of gratitude. Even common courtesy promotes gratitude, although, many still do not engage in courteous behavior. In Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work, Jeremy Adam Smith, an editor for Greater Good Magazine, reports on a John Templeton Foundation survey and study where people were asked about courtesy at work. Based upon the survey results, it appears that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anywhere else. Oddly, ninety-three percent thought that grateful bosses were more likely to succeed and few felt that a grateful boss was perceived as weak. Most respondents in the survey reported that hearing “thank you” at work made them feel good and motivated.
That sounds like what most people would expect, but then the bottom fell out of the survey results. Almost all of the respondents reported that saying “thank you” to colleagues “makes me feel happier and more fulfilled,” but only 10 percent actually said “thank you” at work! Incredibly, 60 percent answered that they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.”
The article then goes on and offers five solid ideas for promoting courtesy at work:
1. Start at the top
2. Thank the people who never get thanked
3. Aim for quality, not quantity
4. Provide many opportunities for gratitude
5. In the wake of crisis, take time for thanksgiving
Those are all good ideas, and the sum of the research suggests that a company that succeeds in instilling courtesy, including a company culture where people say “thank you” will be a better workplace. That is also a more productive workplace. Harvard Health Publishing reported in its article In Praise of Gratitude, that researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided fund-raisers for a university into two groups. The first group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations just as always had. The second group, kept separate by being assigned a different work day, received an encouraging message from the director of annual giving, part of which was that she was grateful for their efforts. Those fund raisers made 50% more fund-raising calls than the first group which was working without encouragement – as usual
The list of studies and examples is nearly endless – and growing as more and more studies are done. Generosity promotes gratitude and a stronger community, organization or business. That, in turn, promotes a contagious response of even more generosity and gratitude, continuing to strengthen the community or workplace.
Where this leads us
The scientists who are rewriting their concept of evolution to try to explain the generosity God put into our souls likely think that they are taking territory away from God. Previously, evolutionists couldn’t explain generosity despite the fact that it has existed in every society and people group. Generosity appeared to them to be contrary to the individual’s personal benefit and, therefore, would be self-defeating and contrary to their selfish view of natural selection.
Now they have re-written Darwinian natural selection and survival of the fittest to incorporate sociobiology and to try to eliminate a gaping flaw in their model of evolution, generosity.
What does that mean?
These observations on the innate, even genetic nature of human generosity mean that evolution is moving closer to God, not that God has moved at all. That has happened repeatedly throughout the history of modern science, such as when the “steady state universe” theory gave way to the sudden creation of all matter from nothingness with “the Big Bang” and when the scientists of the 19th century were forced to admit the universe was far more complex than they had ever imagined and that science was vastly short of curing all illness and solving all mysteries. That inability to solve the mysteries of the universe remains as every mystery solved adds two more mysteries. Science may try, but it can’t catch up to God!
Todd Harper, CEO of Generous Giving, an Orlando, Florida-based organization that promotes generosity in extraordinarily creative ways, has said “I’ve never met an unhappy generous person.” Science now supports Todd and is saying that he likely never will see an unhappy generous person!
If you would like to learn more about this amazing topic and even receive some of the benefits of generosity, give us a call at The Idlewild Foundation at (813) 264-8713.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.