How giving makes you richer

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Spending money on others promotes happiness.

Dunn, 2008

In 2016, American median-income households improved by 16% overall since 2013 - but the top 10% of earners saw their household net worth increase 40% over the three-year period, according to the Fed. This has widened the nation's already large economic divide. How does this translate to charitable giving? According to research, wealthy people are less generous under conditions of high economic inequality - situations which may foster a sense of entitlement among higher-income individuals or even a fear of losing their privilege were resources more evenly distributed.

This isn't terribly surprising. In fact, studies have found that higher-income individuals break road rules and endanger pedestrians more frequently, take more candy from children, feel less compassion for cancer patients, and give less help to strangers in distress. What's more, a survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy released in 2014 found that high-earners reduced their giving during the Great Recession by 4.6%, while those bringing home less than $100,000 increased their donations by nearly as much—4.5%.

However, generosity doesn’t depend on the amount of money one has, but on how aware and mindful one is of the disparities between socioeconomic groups. And perhaps this awareness is trainable. A recent study showed that, after two weeks of compassion training, people showed more altruistic behavior towards others. Similarly, women who underwent a one-day compassion meditation workshop showed greater prosocial behavior days after their training. While more studies are needed to elaborate how compassion training makes us kinder, these results suggest that compassion can be cultivated through mental training. From the escalating gun violence to the ostracized and displaced populations worldwide, alarms bells are going off that our global community can use more compassion.

We know that exercise is good for the heart. But we’re beginning to see how exercising the mind gives us more heart.