Giving Can Make You Happy

Originally published in Facts & Trends

Over the past few years I have read several research projects that directly link the experience of giving to the feeling of happiness. Some of these projects have been extremely impressive in depth and focus. For instance, one found that giving a material gift certainly elicits positive emotions in the receiver of the gift. However, if the gift is more experiential than material, the positive emotion only increases. It increases the enjoyment experienced in the gift exchange and deepens the relationship between the giver and receive.

Other studies clearly indicate that gift giving is connected with the experience of happiness in the brain. But the most stunning and comprehensive work comes from The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. It says, “We can therefore safely conclude that happiness in life is definitely related to Americans’ practices of financial, volunteering, relational, and neighborly generosity and to the overall personal importance of generosity in their lives.”

Which leads me to two questions:

First, if humans are largely self-driven in their thought process, why is giving hardwired into us as a natural positive experience? Second, if giving is a natural positive experience, how is that reflected at church, especially during the time of receiving the offering?

To address, the first question I would refer back to scripture as it reveals to us a generous God and states that we are made in his image. Over and over again we see a generous God sharing His love, wisdom, time, and life toward unconditional forgiveness and eternal rewards. He just keeps giving. Scripture also declares that we are made in His image and that giving is the secret path to succeeding. Knowing that we are made in His image sheds light on the logic behind being called to serve and not gain — because God is a generous God, and He has wired us to be givers.

The common experience of the second question makes me sad. Most churches would avoid the offering time if they could. We also tend to speak in language that evokes duty, or even guilt and shame. We constantly need volunteers to serve and will employ them to do so whether or not they are gifted and passionate in a certain area. It can be more about what we need to keep programming going, than about the experience of giving your life away to an even bigger mission.

So what would it look like for a church to release the joy of giving financially and physically? How can we church leaders get on the same page with science and God’s design?

Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Celebrate the offering time with a picture of how an offering gift well directly make a difference in a life.
  2. Read a scripture during the offering time that speaks of God’s promise and provision as we give.
  3. Say a prayer of blessing over the giver. Ask God to provide for them, bless them, and fulfill them as they give.
  4. Sing a positive uplifting song during the offering time that expresses thanks and praise to God for His generous provision in our lives.
  5. Be person centered in your language about the offering and opportunities to serve. Do not be church need focused.
  6. Make sure your vision and mission are clearly known. A common person who is a brand new follower of Christ should be able to grasp and live the mission with joy.
  7. Create a training experience to help people discover their gifts, passions, experiences, and unique wiring. People need to see how they can successfully fulfill the mission based on their God-given assets, not the church’s most immediate need.
  8. Create giving as an experience, not a transaction. Connect people together to serve alongside of people with like-minded passions. Have small groups create a service project. Broaden your mission appeals to involve those who want to pray, give, and go. Celebrate all as going on mission.
  9. Show the results of generosity in many different ways. Fill your halls with pictures and words, tying generosity, vision, and impact together.
  10. Celebrate the difference leaders and volunteers are making on a regular basis. Begin meetings with vision and stories of impact. Pray intensely as leaders for impact. Fill the tanks of leaders with great stories, appreciation, and success.

I hope this helps. At Lifeway Generosity, we create a great giving experience for givers along with all the tools leaders need to facilitate these impactful experiences. You can check out our resources and digital giving platform here.





Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson