The Health Benefits of Giving

The Health Benefits of Giving 6452aa36e48ef.jpeg

When we think of people who have made incredible contributions to the world we often think of Gandhi, John Kennedy, Jr., Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Diana, etc.  These are all people who didn’t have to make a difference in the lives of others but they chose to.  It filled a need in them.

One good thing to know is that a good deed is not good unless it is done with no expectation of reciprocation.  The truth is that you may never get monetary reciprocation but something happens to you that is irreplaceable when you give to others with a completely selfless heart and intention.

Clear back to the earliest civilizations, it has been understood that greater happiness comes from giving.  Whether it is Socrates, Buddha or Jesus, the message has been clear–to live a good life, happiness comes from integrity, simplicity, and generosity.  We have a better sense of self when we are giving.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows contribution as a basic need.  Alcoholics Anonymous is a perfect example, part of the program is to help each other, and it is through this that it works.

“Alcoholics Anonymous, subtitled The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, is called the “Big Book” in AA circles. First printed in 1939 (now in its 2001 fourth edition), the opening segment of this spiritual-moral treatment manual begins with the words “We of Alcoholics Anonymous.” The essence of the program is captured in the passage, “we work out our solution on the spiritual as well as an altruistic plane,…”(2001, p. xxvi). Nowhere is the word “I” to be found because self-preoccupation is considered the root of the problem. Grandiosity is replaced by anonymity and humility. Any solution lies in the “we” of fellowship centered on a Higher Power, and the recognition that “I” cannot rescue myself (p. 201).”  Psychology Today

What it all boils down to, is that over-consumption of anything brings unhappiness and sharing and giving can bring us happiness and balance in our lives.  We can volunteer time, talent and/or treasure.

One of the most important parts of sharing is not to give more than what you have which can be a temptation once you enjoy the feeling it brings and can lead to overconsumption in its own right.  Another is to give but not to take on another person’s burdens.

In Stephen Ministry they show a slide with a little stick man helping someone out of a muddy hole, he extended a hand and helped him out.  In the second slide, the little stick man got into the hole with the person and then they were both stuck.

“There is a remarkable connection between living a kinder, more generous life, and living a happier and healthier one.” Bill Phillips

One of the most interesting parts of giving is the effect on the giver.  Think about it… What hormones get released when you are in service to another?  Here is a hint: feel-good hormones like serotonin, and endorphins… What hormones get released when you don’t give and are consumed with self?  Think stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.  The truth is that when you give from a kind heart, that giving starts by flooding your body with life-giving, healthy hormones.

The February 2016 study, “The Neurobiology of Giving Versus Receiving Support: The Role of Stress-Related and Social Reward-Related Neural Activity,” was published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

For this study, participants were asked about various scenarios in which they either gave or received social support.

As would be expected, both giving and receiving social support correlated to lower reported negative psychosocial outcomes. However, when the researchers conducted a series of fMRI neuroimaging tests to explore the neural mechanisms of how specific brain areas were affected by giving versus receiving social support, they found that giving ultimately had greater brain benefits than receiving.

Brain Areas That Benefit From Giving Social Support

  1. Reduced stress-related activity in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, right anterior insula, and right amygdala.
  2. Greater reward-related activity in left and right ventral striatum.
  3. Greater caregiving-related activity in septal area.
Source: Konstantin/Shutterstock

In all of these brain areas, fMRI scans lit up when someone was giving support, but not when receiving! For example, the researchers found that while performing a stressful mental math task, participants who gave the most support had reduced activation in brain areas related to stress responses. However, the person receiving support for a math problem didn’t display activation in stress-related brain regions.

Also, giving social support was associated with increased activity in a brain area that functions as part of a reward system. These changes within the brain help to explain why giving has multiple health benefits.  On a neurobiological level, this research highlights specific ways that when you help others, you’re also helping yourself.

Here are 6 ideas for ways you can give:

  1. Listen to someone’s story without interruption.  So many times we “tell” instead of “hear.”  We often interject our opinion, or we switch the topic of conversation back to ourselves… For a moment, stop thinking of yourself, and just really listen… Simple.
  2. Be kind to someone even when they aren’t appearing kind to you.  You can either go with someone on a downward spiral, or you can lift each other up.  It takes one of two people to begin that journey, and often the other follows.  So why not begin by lifting someone else up with a smile?
  3. Compliment someone.  Simply say what’s true… “Your hair looks great,” and “Wow you look amazing today,” are tried and true ways to do this!
  4. Express gratitude to someone for things you may normally take for granted.
  5. Forgive someone who has hurt you.  This is probably one of the ultimate methods of giving and goes without saying. Forgiveness is ultimately the most healing of all. It heals the forgiver and forgiven in the moment it is offered
  6. Empower someone.  Who needs your love and support?  Who can use your time?  You empower yourself when you empower another.  People love to be around others who lift people up. It feels good, and we are drawn to that person’s magnetic personality.  Be that person!


Feel good…and give! 


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