“The heart that gives, gathers.” – Tao Te Ching
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Ghandi
“The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.” – Albert Einstein
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – William Shakespeare
“Generosity is the best investment.” – Dianne Von Furstenburg
“Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” – Proverbs 12 : 24-25
Over the course of several millennia, history’s greatest philosophers, scientists, humanitarians, business titans, and religious prophets alike have attributed one existential key to a happy, rich life: charity.
Needless to say, they were on to something. Within the past twenty-five years alone, modern neuroscience has consistently proven through hundreds of case studies that the connection between happiness and acts of generosity are more than an altruistic belief of the philanthropic elite, but that humans are actually ‘hardwired’ for generosity.
It’s safe to say that everyone feels good when they give, but do charitable acts really increase the odds to not only a life well-lived, but a longer, healthier life? Read on.
Human Evolution: Survival of the Kindest
In 2009, The University of California released findings that are challenging the “survival of the fittest” interpretation of Charles Darwin’s theory of human evolution. Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of “Born To Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life”, and other scientists are developing an ever-growing case that the success and survival of the human species is a result of our compassionate and altruistic traits.
“Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others. Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.” – Dacher Keltner, Co-Director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
Generosity: It’s In Your DNA
It turns out that there is a reason giving feels so inherently good. Acts of charity and generosity trigger a chemical release of endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin (the happiness chemicals) within the human brain and bloodstream; also known as “Giver’s Glow” or “Helpers High.”
At the National Institute of Health, neuroscientists Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology to scan and observe volunteers’ brain activity as volunteers were asked to consider a scenario involving donating a sum of money or keeping it for themselves. Results showed that when volunteers chose to donate money, the anterior prefrontal cortex of the brain lit up, which is also stimulated by personal gratification (food, sex, money, etc) and desire.
This natural, hard-wired euphoria associated with giving has researchers stating that its nature’s reward system insuring that humans will give again, thus encouraging the survival of the human species.
Benefits of a Giving Heart
Leading an altruistic life through the giving of your time, money, or help not only increases your sense of inner purpose and serenity, but researchers are now proving that generosity can extend your lifespan.
The Journal of Health Psychology published findings that stated volunteerism reduced mortality rates more than exercising four times weekly in a study following 2,000 plus residents in California.
In 2013, The American Journal of Public Health published a study that found giving to others reduced reduced the mortality risk tied to stress, a well-known risk factor for a variety of chronic diseases. After studying 846 adults in the Detroit area, the study found that the link was apparent between stress and mortality in those who did not lend a helping hand.
Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University stated that when giving selflessly, “people say their friendships are deeper, they’re sleeping better and they’re able to handle life’s obstacles better. On a scale of 1 to 10 – and 10’s a really powerful drug like insulin in the treatment of diabetes – this stuff is probably up there around a 7 or 8. And the amazing thing is, you don’t need to go to a drugstore for it.”
It is also worth noting that wounded people, whether they are experiencing emotional, mental, or even physical pain, experience healing through helping others. In one study, people with chronic pain and depression who counseled those with similar conditions experienced a decrease in their own symptoms. Experts call this the “Wounded Healer Principle.”
Petra Nemcova a Czech model and tragic victim of the devastating 2004 Thailand tsunamis, harnessed her own grief and pain and used it fuel her desire to help the lives of children and other victims that had suffered from natural disasters. Almost a year after the tsunami, she founded the Happy Hearts Fund, created to rebuild schools and lives of natural disaster victims.
She said, “By giving, you can heal faster emotionally, but also physically. There’s a selfish element in it, really. When we make someone happy, we become even happier. If you decide yourself that you will help in some way, you will benefit the most because it will create amazing joy. Those who are not doing anything are missing out on a very profound joy.”
As Anne Frank said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” If you choose to cultivate a life rich in kindness, generosity, and charity amongst others, your opening yourself up to manifest a personal richness that will expand into a meaningful, long life.