The psychology of giving back

As we develop, we come to learn that receiving gifts is brilliant. However, research shows that giving, and giving back, actually makes us happier.

Social psychologist Liz Dunn and her colleagues found that people’s sense of happiness is greater when they spend more money on others than themselves. However, it’s not just giving gifts that makes us happier. A 2010 survey found that 41 per cent of Americans volunteered for an average of 100 hours a year. Of those who volunteered, 68 per cent said that it made them feel physically healthier, 89 per cent said it improved their sense of wellbeing, and 73 per cent said that they felt less stressed.

“The therapeutic benefits of helping others have long been recognised by everyday people.” Stephen G Post, author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, says.

Another study found that donating to a charity or volunteer programme had the same impact on happiness as doubling the household income. And a Harvard Business School found that when an act of generosity had a social element (rather than an anonymous donation, for example) the results are event more staggering.

“Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop (with happier people giving more, getting happier, and giving even more),” the research explains.

Ask any entrepreneur who is involved in mentoring another, younger business, and they’ll likely tell you they do it because they want to ‘give something back’.

“I got involved with mentoring because I passionately believed, and still do, that there is huge value in helping entrepreneurs set off on their journey with a good start,” Adrian Langford, managing director at Rivermore Finance Group and Virgin StartUp mentor, says.

Another Virgin StartUp mentor, Nick Winters, a partner at Kingston Smith, agrees that he doesn’t just do it for the benefit of the entrepreneurs that he is working with. “I find entrepreneurs to be fascinating anyway so the chance to meet and help more of them is very appealing to me,” he says. “I have learnt that for mentoring to have long term impact you need to help the entrepreneur to analyse problems, identify solutions and work out how to move forward.”

Mentoring is, of course, also a two-way street and many mentors report learning as much from their menses as they teach them. “It’s an exchange of skills and knowledge,” Dessy Tsolova, director at Utelier and fashion industry mentor, says. “I learn from them about areas of the business that I am not so involved in - like let’s say Kickstarter campaigns, new ways to grow your social media, new business models that are less of the established route to market.”

Langford adds: “A lot of mentors talk about ‘giving back’, but scratch below the surface and one often discovers that the mentor learns as much about themselves and their own business situations as they do about the entrepreneurs they are mentoring. This is something to be encouraged.”

Research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has also found that mentoring can change your perception of time - making you feel like you have more time each day. “People who give time feel more capable, confident, and useful,” head researcher Cassie Mogilner explains. “They feel they’ve accomplished something and, therefore, that they can accomplish more in the future. And this self-efficacy makes them feel that time is more expansive.”


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