A recent study has suggested that simply being generous and giving to others could be the key to happiness and improved overall wellbeing. The research suggests that the power of giving activates a certain part of the brain that causes a domino effect of pleasant feelings, more so than receiving something. These findings could help us better distinguish between behaviors that make us happy and those that may be a waste of time.

The small study, published online in Nature Communications, found that volunteers reported more overall happiness when they hypothetically spent money on another person rather than receiving a gift. This answer was verified by an MRI scan that showed generous decisions engaged the temporo-parietal junction in the brain, neural activity that was directly related to changes in happiness.

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“Our results suggest that, for a person to achieve happiness from generous behaviour, the brain regions involved in empathy and social cognition need to overwrite selfish motives in reward-related brain regions,” the study authors write. “These findings have important implications not only for neuroscience but also for education, politics, economics and health.”

For their research, the team from the University of Zurich asked 50 volunteers to imagine buying a gift for a loved one. Then, the volunteers were given money, but half were told that they could use the money to buy a gift for themselves while the other half were told to spend the money on someone they knew. All volunteers had MRIs conducted while they were given the money and told how to use it. Those who were told to spend the money on a gift for a loved one showed more activation in the areas of their brains associated with happiness. Further investigation showed that changing the amount of money the volunteers were giving did not increase or decrease happiness.

“At least in our study, the amount spent did not matter,” said lead author Philippe Tobler, in an email to Time. “It is worth keeping in mind that even little things have a beneficial effect—like bringing coffee to one’s office mates in the morning.”

According to a separate study published earlier this year, another surprising way to boost happiness is to spend more time cuddling with a loved one. The research found that people who had more sex tended to be happier not because of the increased sexual intervouse or even the joy of the orgasm, but rather more time spent cuddling with their loved ones. The research, published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggested that this may be due to the fact that cuddling releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps you to bond with others and decreases stress.

Source: Park SQ, Kahnt T, Dogan A, Strang S, Fehr E, Tobler PN. A neural link between generosity and happiness. Nature Communications. 2017

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