Parents who give money to charity could see a lifelong benefit for their own kids. Children in families with strong philanthropic traditions are more likely to grow up acting generously–and be seemingly happier for it.
In a small study from Fidelity Charitable, a public charity that manages the largest donor-advised fund program in the country, the organization questioned 3,000 people who donate to charity and itemize deductions on their tax returns. People who grew up with strong family traditions around giving ended up more likely than those who didn’t (45% to 36%) to donate $5,000 or more of their own money annually to charity.
Other positive correlations: Family-inspired givers volunteer more time (89% to 73%), consider themselves closer to their immediate family (81% to 71%), and rate themselves as “very happy” far more often (48% to 33%) than those who grew up without such influence. Fidelity sees these correlations as proof that there’s something positive happening, and just in time for the holiday season. “We’ve always known that strategic philanthropy benefits the charities donors support, but this study proves that the impact goes beyond that,” says its president, Pamela Norley, in a press release. “Giving makes people happier and is a significant contributor to a happier and healthy family too.”
Of course, Fidelity receives its own benefit for highlighting all that: The more beneficial philanthropy looks, the more likely people will want to participate, which might grow the public charity’s membership. It has already helped people distribute $30 billion in grants to 255,000 organizations.
But Fidelity’s findings actually line up with similar academic research. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Nature Communications, there’s a virtuous cycle around altruism: “Generous behavior is known to increase happiness, which could thereby motivate generosity,” note researchers at the University of Zurich. To show that, the group asked 50 people to rank their mood, and then gave them a small sum (about $25 in francs) to spend each week for a month. The group divided into people that were told to spend the money on themselves, and those who gave it away to others.
The more generous givers reported improved moods and showed more activity in the reward center of their brain during subsequent fMRI scans. That sort of test has been replicated many times with different amounts and far larger sample sizes, and in some instances may even be related to reduced blood pressure. The key isn’t necessarily the amount–benefits in some experiments have been charted at just $5. Although if you have at least $5,000 to donate, that’s good for Fidelity: It happens to be the minimum requirement to open a giving account.