It might sound obvious, but these insights reveal an undeniable correlation between selflessness and life satisfaction.

By Maggie Seaver
Updated November 07, 2019

Whatever being generous means to you, keep doing it, because a survey by The Ascent reveals a positive correlation between generosity and happiness. To find out how acts of selflessness affect a person’s overall sense of happiness and life satisfaction, The Ascent, an online financial product review site, asked more than 1,000 U.S. adults to do two separate things. First, participants answered questions about how satisfied they were with different aspects of their life, such as friendships, family life, social life, finances, and their career. Second, each respondent was tasked with filling out the Adapted Self-Report Altruism Scale, on which they rank how likely they are, on a scale of zero (never) to four (very often), to carry out 14 different altruistic behaviors (think: donating clothing to charity or giving directions to a stranger). Those who scored above the 75th percentile were labeled the high-generosity group, and those who scored below the 25th percentile, the low-generosity group.

The results don’t lie, people who were more likely to be generous were also much more likely to report being happy in life. Seventy-four percent of high-generosity respondents were “satisfied” with their life overall, compared to 60 percent of low-generosity individuals. High-generosity people were more than twice as likely to say they were “very satisfied.” People who scored extremely high on the altruism scale were also more satisfied in every relevant life category: friendships, family life, social life, romantic life, career, and finances.

High-generosity respondents were almost three times as likely to be "very happy" every day. It appears that they’re not just happier, but happier more often. This overarching sense of happiness in high-generosity individuals may be a positive side effect of their higher likelihood to find life more meaningful. These highly selfless people were nearly three times as likely to describe their life as "very meaningful." The generous group were also more than 20 percent more likely to be optimistic about their future, be proud of themselves, and find enjoyment in their jobs.

So is it any surprise they're more likely to have more close friends as well? Those identified as high generosity reported an average of 3.2 close friends, compared to the 2.6 of the less generous crowd. And we're not just talking about friends, but friends who'd visit them at the hospital, help them move, drive them to and from the airport, and loan them money in a pinch. This proves the adage that you have to give a little to get a little—the more generous you are to loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers, the more likely those selfless deeds will be reciprocated sometime down the line.