You’ve probably heard it’s better to give than to receive, but likely you’re unaware of what’s going on in your brain when you present a gift to someone.
Remember the warm feeling that came over you the last time you handed a wrapped box to a friend or family member? There’s a scientific explanation for why giving to others makes you feel so good, and there’s even evidence to show that giving can help you live a longer, healthier life.
Science Behind Giving
There is a proven connection between contributing in a useful way to the lives of others and our own well-being, according to Dr. Stephen Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People.
Post explains that even the thought of giving something meaningful to others can “light up” the brain’s mesolimbic pathway, which releases endorphins, leading to what some scientists have called the “helper’s high.” According to Post, this activity can even shut down brain pathways associated with bitterness and hostility, emotions that, over time, act like acid on the body.
Deciding What to Give
To get the health benefits from gift giving, what you give doesn’t matter as much as how you give. Whether you’re giving a thoughtful present, writing a check for charity or just volunteering your time to a cause you believe in, giving with purpose is key to receiving the health benefits associated with generosity.
“You don’t have to go to the Rocky Mountains and meditate with Buddhist monks to get emotional tranquility. Just turn to the person near you and be helpful in any way you can.”
— Dr. Stephen Post
Ultimately, we should be spending less time trying to find that popular gift and spending more time regularly reaching out to others in ways that will be deeply appreciated.
Giving tends to promote more giving, so adopting a generous spirit helps to make a modest but real effect on your community. There is scientific evidence that shows people who give to others tend to be happier, and people who are happy tend to be givers. It’s a reciprocal feedback loop.
One way to be a regular giver is to find an organization, charity or cause that is special to you and set aside time to stay involved. Although there is no exact prescription for everyone, studies show after giving for just two hours a week, people start to report benefits to their well-being. In addition to health benefits, contributing to the lives of others also helps create a positive change in your community.
While getting benefits should not be your primary motivation for giving, the association between helping others and becoming happier and healthier is evident. Giving takes a lot of forms, so find a way to give to others that makes you feel fulfilled and make it a regular part of your life.
It really is better to give than to receive!