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3 Studies Showing God Designed Us for Generosity

We are made in God’s image. And while sin distorts this image, sin has not destroyed it. God is glad to be generous, and so are we.

God has designed us for generosity, to reflect His generous character toward others. We see this in Scripture as God consistently directs us to live and give generously, not because generosity runs against our design, but because it aligns with it.

Intuitively, we know this.

Recall the last time you gave sacrificially. Did you give to your local church? Did you provide funds for a homeless shelter? Did you provide backpacks and school supplies for families who could not afford them? Did you give money to support mission work in another country? The recollection likely brings about feelings of happiness or satisfaction, certainly not regret. While we frequently regret past purchases, we rarely regret past generosity.

Researchers have extensively studied the relationship between money and happiness. Elizabeth Dunn is one of the more well-known researchers on the topic. Her and her colleagues have performed several studies on money and happiness, including the area of generosity. For believers, her studies are worth noting because they point to something important—God designed us for generosity.

Let’s consider three of the studies.

Study #1: Toddlers and Generosity

In this first study, a toddler was placed on one side of the table, and a person with a brown, monkey puppet sat on the other side of the table. Both the child and the monkey have a small bowl placed in front of them on the table. At this point, the bowls are empty. A woman in the room comments on the empty bowls to ensure the toddler notices.

The woman in the room “surprisingly finds” eight Goldfish crackers and places them in the toddler’s bowl. Then, the woman in the room “finds” another Goldfish cracker and sets the cracker in the monkey puppet’s bowl. The monkey puppet pretends to eat the cracker.

Then, the woman in the room “finds” another cracker. She hands the cracker to the toddler and asks the toddler to give it to the monkey puppet. The toddler does, and the monkey puppet pretends to eat the cracker. Finally, the woman in the room asks the toddler to give the monkey puppet one of their own Goldfish crackers.

The toddler hands over a cracker, an act of sacrificial generosity.

This study was repeated with twenty-two toddlers. Each time, the toddlers’ enthusiasm was recorded with every step. The results were telling—enthusiasm was highest for the act of sacrificial generosity. The toddlers were happiest when giving away one of their own crackers.

But what if this outcome is isolated to children? Do we eventually grow out of this response? Another study from Dunn and her colleagues shines light on that question.

Study #2: Adults and Generosity

A different study involved adults. In the morning, a group of adults were asked to rate their level of happiness. Afterward, they were provided with an envelope containing with $5 or $20. The recipients of the money were also provided one of two instructions for the day. One group was told to use the money on themselves—pay a personal bill, buy themselves a cup of coffee, or whatever self-focused spending they prefer. The other group was told to use the money on someone else—purchase someone’s food, pay their bill, or some other generous act.

The participants followed their instructions. Later that evening, the adults were asked again to rate their level of happiness. The results were similar to the toddlers. Those who used the money on someone else reported higher levels of happiness than those who used the money on themselves. Generosity produced higher levels of happiness than self-focused spending.

But could these results in toddlers and adults simply be a local phenomenon confined to one culture? Dunn and her colleagues set out to find the answer.

Study #3: Cross Cultural Generosity

In another study, individuals within the countries of Canada and South Africa were provided with the money needed to purchase a small goody bag. Like the participants in the study above, each recipient asked to rate their happiness level and was given one of two instructions. One group was told to purchase a goody bag for themselves. The second group was instructed to purchase a goody bag for a sick child at a local children’s hospital.

The participants did as they were told. They were then asked, once again, to rate their level of happiness. The results may not surprise you. Those who purchased goody bags for a sick child reported higher happiness levels than those who purchased a goody bag for themselves. The outcome was true for both those in Canada and South Africa. This is just one of many studies that demonstrate the global phenomenon.

Across the world, the generous experience something similar. Coincidence? Not likely.

 

God designed us, not to be hoarders, but conduits through which His generosity flows.

God designed us, not to be hoarders, but conduits through which His generosity flows.

When we are generous, we store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). There is no better investment for our resources. But as 1 Timothy 6:19 tells us, we also experience present blessings—increased happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and being a part of something much larger than ourselves. Giving lessens our grip on the material world, and in turn, lessens the grip the material world has on us.

These three studies are not the Bible, nor did those involved in the research intend to point us to God. The studies were simply performed to explore the relationship between a person’s generosity and their happiness level. But for those of us who follow Christ, we read the results through a different filter than the rest of the world. We see evidence of what Scripture reveals—when we align ourselves with God’s design for us, we experience His blessings.

Our God is ridiculously generous, and He has designed us to reflect His generosity.

Art Rainer
Art Rainer

Art Rainer is the Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He writes and speaks widely about issues related to finance, wealth, and generosity, and is the author of The Money Challenge: 30 Days of Discovering God’s Design for You and Your Money. Art lives in Wake Forest, North Carolina with his wife, Sarah, and their three children.

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