Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “You make a living by what you earn. You make a life by what you give.” I recently mentioned the science behind giving. Here I will lay out a lot of examples of that science that makes giving so good. If this is your first read, I’ll catch you up with a brief overview of this little series of posts. It started with the fact that 85% of us hate our jobs, but there are lots of reasons we never leave the jobs we hate. Then I offered up a few ways that you can find out what you were “made to do”, as in Michael Jordan was made to play basketball. Then I explained that everyone – EVERYONE – has a gift, but only some pursue that gift in what they do for a living. This post is all about what happens when we give of our time, talents, and treasure.
It’s So Dope
Sex, certain drugs, music, and, most recently, social media are known to cause our brains to give out dopamine. Dopamine is a compound present in the body as a neurotransmitter and a precursor of other substances including epinephrine. In other words, when your brain says “release the dopamine!” your body gets all excited. It’s a rush. You like it, and you want to do it again. Our sex drives, drug addictions, love of certain kinds of music, and when a bunch of people like your most recent social media post all produce dopamine.
The release of dopamine in our bodies causes us to want more of what caused the release of the dopamine. That’s what causes repetitive or addictive behavior.
Giving Feels Good
According to science, the act of giving has that same power over our minds and bodies. When I learned about this chemistry, I doubted, so I dug deeper. Here are just a few examples.
- Psychology Today – No matter what name or reason we assign to it, giving feels good, and activates “the medial forebrain pleasure circuit in which the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a crucial role.”
- Forbes: The Psychology of Giving – “When we experience ourselves as givers, we receive a deep and enduring affirmation of our value to others.”
- Scientific American – “when people donated money to a charity, the same [neural] network showed even greater activity—and the activity spread to the subgenual area (implicated in social attachment).”
- SACAP – Why Giving Makes Us Happy – “Research indicates that helping others lessens anxiety and increases positive feelings and feelings of satisfaction.”
- Greater Good Magazine – Why Giving is Good for You – “when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”
- TisBest – The Science of Giving – “Our brains create a positive reinforcement for altruism in the same areas that reward food, drugs, money and sex. an area of the brain that regulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a critical role in social connection, also played a key role in decisions about giving, suggesting that altruism and social relationships are inextricably related.”
- The Economist – The Joy of Giving – “the part of the brain that was active when a person donated happened to be the brain’s reward centre—the mesolimbic pathway, to give it its proper name—responsible for doling out the dopamine-mediated euphoria associated with sex, money, food and drugs. Donating also engaged the part of the brain that plays a role in the bonding behaviour between mother and child, and in romantic love. This involves oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust and cooperation.”
- Psychology Today – Generosity – What’s in it for you? “Men who did regular volunteer work had death rates two-and-one half times lower than men who didn’t.”
- Cleveland Clinic – Wanna Give? This Is Your Brain on a ‘Helper’s High’ – “during gift-giving behaviors, humans secrete “feel good” chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical) and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical).”
Also from the above Cleveland Clinic article, studies find these health benefits associated with giving:
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased self-esteem
- Less depression
- Lower stress levels
- Longer life
- Greater happiness
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore
What all this science is saying is that you don’t give her a dozen roses because you love her. You love her because you gave her a dozen roses. You don’t work hard at your job because you love it; you love it because you work so hard at it. When we give and invest in something, our brain causes us to attach to it. That’s why when we earn something, it means far more to us than when we’re given the same thing for no effort (insert participation trophy here).
Now, for those who make up the 85% of all people who hate their jobs, what might happen if they began giving at work?