Right from the start when we, humans, are at a tender age, unbeknownst of the wild world that surrounds us, we tend to give more than take.
We are told that giving is more satisfying than taking and that seeps down in your souls until we experience the warmth of helping someone ourselves.
But can we all attribute the feelings associated with giving to the teachings of our parents?
Yes. And. No.
While upbringing plays a huge role, we are hard-wired to give, to help, or be altruistic.
Nelson Mandela has put this better in his words:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Let’s explore this natural tendency of ours toward doing good scientifically.
We’re hard-wired to help – some studies
“Sympathy is our strongest instinct.” – Darwin
But wait, wasn’t it something like “survival of the fittest”?
It wasn’t until the University of California, Berkley, gave it another angle. Their findings have been shocking to the least because they place the act of giving as “wired” into our brains.
That goes to say, that contrary to the beliefs that humans are born selfish, we are actually born to take care of each other.
According to Dacher Keltner, co-director of Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley, our “fundamental task” for survival and “gene replication” is to care for each other. That’s particularly where this theory coincides with that of Darwin’s. We have not survived because we have been selfish throughout our history, we have survived because we took care of each other.
Another study conducted by two National Institute of Health neuroscientists, Jorge Moll and Jordon Grafman, tells us that the part of our brain that fires up when we see food or have sex also shows increased activity when we give. In layman’s terms, giving activates the same response as food or sex – the reward system.
They found this out by placing subjects in a situation where they had to give from their $128. On average, they gave $51, but every time they did, their functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed crazy activity in the anterior prefrontal cortex.
From these studies, it is evident that giving is a part of us. It is who we are. It is what makes us stand out among the billions of living things in the world. It is what makes us human.
Having said that, here are nine changes that take place in your body, mind, or mood that make giving all the while more pleasurable and satisfying.
The Nine Changes:
1. “Warm Glow”
This is a term coined by the economist, James Andreoni, in 1989. He associated all the feelings you feel when you give to what he called impure altruism. Meaning, that humans give because they want the warm tingly feelings associated with it. That’s still a theory, but what’s fact is that we experience those feelings.
A 2008 Harvard Business School study by Michael Norton et. al. found out that the participants in their research experienced more happiness in giving to others than they did on spending on themselves.
And of course, the study conducted by NIC, which we mentioned above already establish that the warm-glow originates in the region associated with pleasure.
2. Health Impact
There are many pieces of evidence that giving makes us healthy. Two of the renowned studies in this aspect are done by a Representative Medicine professor, Stephen Post, and Doug Oman, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
The first one as mentioned in his Why Good Things Happen to Good People book, Stephen says that his subjects showed an improvement in health when they gave. Mind you, they were people suffering from diseases such as HIV.
What else could we want?
3. Cooperation and Meaningful Connection
Giving is a social activity and therefore, it promotes good relations, connections, and cooperation. The work of Brent Simpson and Robb Willer, two renowned sociologists have found out that giving promotes giving. Meaning, if you give now, someone somewhere will give something to you.
When you donate to a cause, you feel a sense of gratitude whether you express it or not. Thankfulness, in the end, gives you more.
As evident by the study put forth by Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons, gratitude makes you feel better, more optimistic, and complete.
5. Creates the Generosity Domino Effect
James Fowler of the UC, San Diego along with Nicolas Christakis published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. According to them, generosity towards someone induces generosity in them and all those who observed your act.
6. “Helper’s High”
Giving induces the release of oxytocin – a hormone related to “feeling good”.
A study conducted by the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, Claremont Graduate University, stipulates that the main driving factor behind people giving more is oxytocin. People generally develop empathy and closer connections as they receive more doses of oxytocin. Some even last for up to two hours.
7. “PERMA” Model
According to the PERMA Model, the psychological effects of happiness, which giving induces, are:
- Positive emotion
8. Morale Boost
One of the many changes that giving induces is a sheer morale boost. When you help someone, you instantly find your lost confidence. That confidence can make the impossible happen.
It certainly made it happen for a waitress.
In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, the psychologist Angela Duckworth mentions this waitress called Kat Cole.
She rose to the vice presidentship at the age of 26, but not at the cost of destroying others’ careers. Instead, as she gave more, took everyone on board, and continued on that path, she ultimately found success in her own career. Her experience can be explained by the PERMA model. She was what she calls a “productive achiever”.
9. Healing Others
When you uplift others, give them support, or just tell them that you’re there for them, you’re actually doing a lot. A study found out that patients with multiple sclerosis uplifted their fellow patients more effectively than not. The helpers induced self-confidence, self-esteem to the point that they weren’t depressed anymore.
“For it is in giving that we receive.”
This quote by Saint Francis of Assisi summarizes The Science of Giving. We are hard-wired by birth to take care of the people around us.
Call it evolutionary benefit or something else, it has made it resilient, adaptive, and most of all, humans.
We are for each other and there’s no one coming from another world to save us.