Growing up in church, the idea of giving back to the Lord was taught regularly. When I began working and earning income for myself, I tithed and continue to tithe from my income as part of my worship to God.
As churchgoers, we often miss the reasons God asks us to give because we look at it only through the church’s lens. But of the $410 billion given to charities last year, only $127.37 billion went to religious organizations. So, why is the other $282.63 billion being given?
In the past, many Christians focused on the rule of the tithe, but failed to look at the benefits that God, in His ultimate wisdom, built into the system and our physical make up. A 2008 study by Harvard Business School revealed that giving increased participants’ happiness more than spending on themselves, even though many participants expected spending on themselves would make them happier. A similar result was discovered by University of California Riverside psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, who had participants perform five acts of kindness per week over a six-week study.
The happiness produced by giving is reflected in our biology. A 2006 study by the National Institutes of Health found that giving activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. Scientists believe philanthropic behavior releases endorphins in the brain. And, it is interesting that even giving for non-religious reasons causes this reaction to occur.
Giving has also been shown to improve our general health. Wide-ranging research has established links between generosity and health, regardless of health or age. A study at University of California Berkeley found older adults who volunteered at two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die in the following five years than their non-volunteer counterparts, even after controlling the study for age, exercise, general health, and smoking. These results were also found in a University of Michigan study in 2003. In 2006, a study by professors from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Tennessee found people providing social support to others had lower blood pressure than those who did not. The general conclusions from these studies suggested one reason giving may improve physical health and longevity is it helps reduce stress associated with various health issues.
The physical health benefits of generosity are measurable, but the benefits do not end there. Several studies have shown when you give, it starts ripple effects throughout your life and extends to others in your community. Whether you are giving or receiving a gift, it creates feelings of gratitude. Gratitude, research has found, is tied to happiness, health, and social bonds.
In a study at Florida State University, gratitude was found to strengthen our sense of connection to those to whom gratitude was shown. Gratitude also has been shown to boost positivity both in self and in others. It not only affects the individuals directly involved but spreads throughout our communities. Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard have learned generous behavior spread by three degrees.
In other words, one person’s influence stretches to dozens or even hundreds, many unknown by the generous individual. Think about someone paying for the next meal in a drive-through line; that person returns the favor, and so on. Medical studies show giving is linked to the release of oxytocin (also known as the “love hormone” because of its association with pair bonding). In other words, it causes a more robust social connection to others, even though you may never meet them.
When we look at giving from a secular viewpoint and see all the benefits, it reinforces the truth that God created the process of giving to show His love for us. An action as simple as giving creates physical and psychological changes that not only make us feel good but bring us closer to God and the community around us.
If everyone gave, the ripple effects would make a drastic change in the world around us.