As the mother of two young children, ages 1 and 4, I spend much of my day involved in their care and the regulation of the relationship between them. My girls, from the start, shared a natural bond, and as my “baby” inches ever closer to 2 their distinct personalities are beginning to flourish in a new way. One thing I have noticed is that the little one takes extreme joy in sharing almost every aspect of her life with her older sister. Any time I am doling out snacks she happily chimes in, “Na-Nee too!” It seems natural that whatever she has, her sister should have as well. So recently when I saw a headline for a new study from the University of British Columbia that claimed “Giving Makes Young Children Happy,” I really wasn’t all that surprised. What’s more intriguing, however, is the relationship of giving, and the results of this study, to human happiness over the long term and the proliferation of pro-social behavior. [caption id="attachment_1646" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Even the smallest members of society get great joy when giving gifts to others. Image credit: Stuart Miles"][/caption] Why Giving Is Good Psychologists have long wondered why humans tend to act in a giving manner, even when doing so comes at a great cost. In education in general, but especially among the special education crowd, the contrast of pro-social behavior to anti-social behavior is important. The fact that giving makes even the smallest members of our species happy goes a long way into explaining the tendency of humans to engage in giving behavior. Furthermore, it suggests that selfishness may, in fact, be a learned behavior. The crux of this study, which was led by Dr. Laura Aknin, Prof. Kiley Hamlin and Prof. Elizabeth Dunn, was found in the fact that toddlers under the age of 2 were actually happier when giving away their own treats, rather than those of someone else. Researchers discovered this by giving each toddler a small amount of Goldfish crackers and then asking them to give some to a puppet. They then asked the toddlers to provide crackers to the puppet that came from another pile which the toddler would not have identified as his or her own. The results were recorded and later studied. The UBC team found that, on a scale of 1 to 7, the toddlers were happier when giving away their own treats. Encouraging Our Natural Giving Tendencies The most exciting result of this study is its confirmation of something that we have long wanted to be true: the joy of giving. While adults can consciously connect to the positive emotions felt when giving someone a gift or even a helping hand it can be argued that society and cultural norms influence these actions. Previously, however, the predominating attitude was that toddlers especially are rather inherently selfish. This is crushed through the results of this study. Instead, the willingness and joy these young children found in sharing their own treats shows that the true nature of the human animal is to sacrifice for the benefit of others. With this knowledge, there is hope that, as a society and especially an education system, we can tap into this natural predisposition to share and reshape the way that the future generations react to giving and selflessness. Perhaps in the future was can encourage these pro-social actions for the better of us all.
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