72
  • Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

Achieve Happiness by Giving

By PAM BERNS

    Gordon Gekko, in the movie Wall Street pontificated, “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed—for lack of a better word—is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms —greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.” 
    Well, we know how Gekko ended up—at least for a few years. But, we now know about scientific studies that give us a better understanding of our evolutionary roots, dependent on compassion and cooperation to further our society. 
     In a recent study, a team of archaeologists from the University of York examined evidence of empathy that Neanderthals developed in Europe between 500,000 and 40,000 years ago. The researchers found evidence that Neanderthals trained their young into their teens and took care of their infirm over long periods of time. They found remains of a Neanderthal with deformed feet and blindness that showed that the individual lived and was cared for for about 25 to 30 years.
    The research of these archaeologists was published in the journal Time and Mind, and was led by Dr. Penny Spikins along with Andy Needham and Holly Rutherford. The researchers surmised that modern humans extended compassion to strangers and animals around 120,000 years ago. Spikins, the co-author of The Prehistory of Compassion reported that this research is just the first step in a long-needed study in prehistoric archaeology of compassion. 
   Spikins told Wired, “From an evolutionary standpoint, collaboration works, and we’re deeply collaborative as a species. It was a key part of our success, and would have an emotional motivation behind it. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that compassion can be humbling, or inspiring,” said Spikins. “It’s possible that Neanderthals were more caring and cooperative than humans were at the time. There’s just no way of knowing.”

The Connection Between Giving and Happiness
    Recently, an analysis of a nation’s contribution to aid programs on an international scale has been published in Global Business and Economics Review. Byron Lew and Mak Arvin of the Department of Economics at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, found that in a study of 9 European countries, the level of foreign aid and the levels of happiness are positively linked in the UK and France, but surprisingly, not in other European countries. Other researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, found that people seemed to be much happier if they were spending money on gifts to others or on charitable donations, rather than spending it on themselves. Lew and Arvin attempted to find out whether past levels of happiness could predict levels of offered aid. They found that in the UK and France, there was a positive connection from aid to happiness.
    According to the Huffington Post, a new ranking of the 400 largest charities showed that overall, donations dropped 11 percent last year, despite the good fortune of a handful of larger charities, including Catholic Charities USA (which had an increase of 66 percent), AmeriCares Foundation, Feed The Children and Habitat for Humanity. Other top charities suffered declines in the single digits including the Salvation Army, but the charity still brought in $1.7 billion last year. The Chronicle of Philanthropy noted that the Salvation Army raised a record $139 million in its Christmas red kettle campaign. Yet the charity is concerned that its donors are older; they are looking to branch out in digital video marketing to reach a younger donor. The study found that overall, the 400 largest charities suffered the worst decline in giving in the past 20 years. 
      In another study, Anita Williams Woolley of Carnegie Mellon University found the “intelligence” of a group can be measured. “More and more, people need to collaborate to solve problems. For a lot of the tasks groups are working on, there are things that people can’t do on their own.” In Science, researchers found that several social factors were correlated with group intelligence, including social sensitivity—the ability of a person to read the facial expressions of others and infer what they’re thinking and feeling. 

Why Does Resentment Trump Compassion Today?
    Do we have trouble “reading” the expressions of those who look different than we do? Could that account for our lack of initiative to save the victims of wars in Darfur and other far-off places with little resemblance to our own society? Or treating sick children of immigrants of a different color?
    Most human DNA today contains a 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal mix. If we evolved as a compassionate species a hundred thousand years ago, why, today does it seem so difficult for some segments of our society to support social programs going to those less fortunate? Have we stopped evolving? 
     Why is the increasing disparency between the rich and poor resulting in such a lack of compassion when it comes to helping cover healthcare for the very sick? Consider the angry Tea Partiers. Where does this resentment and obsession about others receiving a greater portion of the common good come from? Greed has not resulted in “the upward surge of mankind,” if we are to understand the link between giving and happiness, at least in France and England.
    It seems that if we have evolved socially from the time of our country’s forefathers, we would find that the link between generosity and happiness would have been discovered here as well, like the British and French found. Perhaps the study supporting spending money on those less fortunate is a clue to why those who obsess about others’ share of the wealth seem so angry. Whatever the cause for some of our country’s resentment of those less fortunate receiving more than their fair share, we should consider the Neanderthals—who might have been a lot happier than some of our well-to-do today.

Published: December 09, 2010
Issue: 2010 Philanthropy Issue

Comments

Happiness by Giving
There is no virtue in giving away someone else's money. The shot at the "Tea Partiers" is uncalled for. How do you know they are less generous than others, just because they do not want the Government taking from one group and giving to another group of voters?
edward M., Dec-13-2010