You’ve done your research; you’ve committed to a charitable cause and now you’re donating regularly; knowing that every dollar you give is making a difference. Feels warm and fuzzy right? Well, science shows those feelings are far from fleeting.
Kindness, compassion, and generosity of spirit have been hot topics in the research world for decades. Studies consistently reveal enhanced mood, improved physical health and even increased longevity, are connected to giving both monetary donations and volunteer hours alike. So, when it comes to your health, it really is more blessed to give than to receive.
Generosity is good for your mind
It’s all in your head. True. Those feel-good feels of giving begin in the brain. Dr Stephen G Post is a professor of Preventive Medicine and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, USA, and he is quoted the web over on this subject. He calls it “giver’s glow” and the response, he says, is triggered by brain chemistry in the mesolimbic pathway, which is sometimes referred to as the reward pathway.
Philanthropy “doles out several different happiness chemicals,” Post is quoted as saying. “Including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquillity, serenity or inner peace,” he says.
The Ican School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says that this pleasure and reward system evolved some 1 to 2 billion years ago, and at its most basic level, is tied to the joy we receive from intimate and social interactions as well as eating.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get an inside view of the brain during moments of generosity or selfless behaviour has led scientists to discover that even just thinking about giving can engage this ancient response.
Australian Kieran Johnson aka The Generosity Guy, outlines the methodology of one such study and the results.
“People were given the opportunity to give money to someone that they knew who needed it, a charity or to themselves,” Kieran reports.
“It was no surprise that when the study participants chose to give money to someone they knew who needed it, or to a charity, they felt good – better than when they gave it to themselves,” he says.
“The areas of the brain that ‘lit up’ where those that are linked to the reward system, providing a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. This is a common finding in a number of studies.”
Regular giving to charity
Subscribing to give recurring donations to your favourite cause can light up your life on a regular basis. Many charities, like The Kids’ Cancer Project, make giving regular monthly or quarterly donations really easy to set up. When making a donation, simply select the donation frequency that suits you.
Another way to get a routine dopamine hit through regular giving is to ask your employer to sign up to a Workplace Giving program, also known as Payroll Giving.
Workplace Giving allows you to make small, regular donations to charity directly from your pre-tax pay so you get the tax benefit immediately rather than having to wait until you file your end of financial year tax return.
“Being generous is more than just giving money away, but that is the easiest place to start,” says Kieran.
“Being intentional about doing something for someone else gives you control – you take ownership of that part of your life and the effects are far and wide,” says Kieran.