You know why giving is good: seeing others happy, warm fuzzies, a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself. But, check it out--giving is also great for your health. So, go ahead and have those fries*!
New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good. In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, participants’ brains were monitored by MRI scans while they made decisions about donating part of their research payment to charitable organizations. When participants chose to donate money, the brain’s mesolimbic system was activated, the same part of the brain that’s activated in response to monetary rewards, sex, and other positive stimuli. Choosing to donate also activated the brain’s subgenual area, the part of the brain that produces feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin, that promote social bonding.
“When you’re experiencing compassion, benevolence, and kindness, they push aside the negative emotions,” says Post. “One of the best ways to overcome stress is to do something to help someone else.”
Even better, feeling good and doing good can combine to create a positive feedback loop, where doing good helps us to feel good and feeling good also makes us more likely to do good.
“Numerous studies have found that happy people are more helpful," says Dr. David Myers, a social psychologist at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness. “Those who've just found money in a phone booth are more likely to help a passerby with dropped papers. Those who feel successful are more likely to volunteer as a tutor."
How wonderful to know that something as simple as helping someone else will allow you to let go of negative thoughts and emotions. How great to see that actions that benefit many are beneficial to all involved. It's a great way to go into a weekend--two days to reach out and show your generosity. Saturday night "helper's high"? Don't mind if we do!
*Okay, maybe just a few fries.
[Photo by Tanel Teemusk]