From food and rounds of drinks to stories, knowledge, advice and even social media posts, think about the different ways in which you share on a daily, if not hourly, basis – whether intentionally or not.

The importance of sharing with siblings and peers is instilled in us from an early age. It’s thought that children as young as three can understand the concept. That said, it can take a lot longer before they are willingly prepared to do so. That’s because sharing is a learned activity and mastering such a complex life skill takes both time and practice – a fact that anyone who has witnessed a pair of toddlers battle over the same toy truck can attest to. This art, however, vastly improves with age, as we gain a greater ability to both manage our emotions and – crucially – empathise with others.

But why is the importance of this habit drilled into us, and how do we benefit – both individually and collectively – from sharing?


“Sharing doesn’t just make us feel good – oxytocin, the ‘love drug’ hormone is released when we help others – it’s actually even bigger than that,” explains Elle Tucker, writer and sharing economy consultant, and board member at Sharing Economy UK, the industry trade body.


“Cooperative networks in hunter-gatherer social groups practised sharing of food and other resources because it was essential to reduce the risk of daily shortfalls – or longer ones due to illness or injury. This meant that group members were still able to get essential nutrients and supplies when they were unable to forage, keeping them healthy and increasing the amount of offspring born to mothers.


“Sharing isn’t just a feel-good, wasteless activity, it’s something as old as human society itself, and indeed one of the things that has contributed to its success,” continues Tucker. “That’s pretty powerful stuff.”

It’s also understood that children learn a huge amount from this practice – from making and keeping friends to playing cooperatively. Additional skills associated with sharing include taking turns, negotiating, and coping with disappointment. It also teaches compromise and fairness. Ultimately, children who share start to understand the notion of give and take – if they acquiesce somewhat, they often get what they want in return.


How we share is of the utmost importance, too, as seen in a study in China involving young children at preschool sharing stickers with others. One group shared their stickers voluntarily, while the other group shared theirs because they felt obligated to do so.


Those who shared under duress didn’t enjoy it, while those who gave their stickers away willingly felt happier than when they kept them to themselves. Another similar study reported that children who made a difficult choice to share their stickers once were more likely to share again in the future. Opting to share, therefore, makes us not only happier, but more likely to do so again in the future.


Sharing, we can therefore summarise, is an art that requires practice, patience and regular modelling. While it can be initially jarring and unnatural to us as human beings, learning to do so teaches us to connect, to adapt, to pursue happiness through empathy for others, and ensures that we will thrive in our pack, wherever that may be.