Dodge: Can Giving Make You Live Longer?

By Kevin Dodge (email)

If there were a way dramatically to increase your chances at happiness, longevity, health and financial freedom, would you be interested? Would it surprise you to learn that all the major religious traditions through the centuries have had similar answers to finding the good life? The answer is a simple one: be generous.

You might wonder how generosity has anything to do with being happy, healthy, and prosperous. Giving money and time away, by definition, means we have less money and time for ourselves. How could that possibly correlate to a richer, happier, more prosperous life?

A 2014 book published by Oxford University Press called the Paradox of Generosity answers this with findings that are both surprising and powerful. Christian Smith and his team at Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative conducted a study on the giving habits of Americans across a large sample of people from twelves different states. They then drilled down on a subset of survey participants and spent multiple days trying to understand their lives and habits.

Their findings demonstrated with remarkable consistency that those who are generous do better in almost every major area of life. This included physical and emotional health, sense of meaning and purpose, general well-being and happiness, life span and financial health.

And, it’s not dependent on wealth or income either. Generous people making $30,000 experienced similar results to those making $300,000. In fact, money wasn’t really the driver of well-being at all. The quality of one’s heart and the reasons one gave were much more important.

This isn’t to say that every generous person did well across each of these categories. The researchers simply found that, on average, generous people have a dramatically better chance of doing well in life than those who weren’t generous.

The sad fact, however, is that the researchers also found only about 3% of Americans register as generous givers (which Smith defined as giving away 10% or more of one’s yearly income). Thus, Americans are willing to spend billions on diets and self-help books, but are missing out on the most obvious way they could improve their lives – simply by giving to others in time and treasure.

We shouldn’t be surprised by what Smith found because this is exactly what the Bible predicts. Take what Jesus says, for example: “Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6.38).

Does Jesus promise to make you rich if you give? Well, no. This is a uniquely western perversion of what Jesus means. But, the Bible again and again promises a blessing on those who are generous to others, both spiritually and materially.

So, do you want to have an abundant life? Give, and see if there just may be something to what the sages through the ages have always known – “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20.35).

Categories: Between Sundays