The Neuroscience of Giving
Proof that helping others helps you
Posted Apr 24, 2014
Humans are social animals, so it is no surprise that we are wired to help one another. In our complex modern society, there are many ways to give and the good news is that we now understand that both the giver and receiver benefit from the relationship. Neuroscience has demonstrated that giving is a powerful pathway for creating more personal joy and improving overall health.
While the brain is remarkably complex, the neurochemical drivers of happiness are quite easy to identify. Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin make up the Happiness Trifecta. Any activity that increases the production of these neurochemicals will cause a boost in mood. It’s really that simple.
So if giving allows us to secrete all the chemicals at once, we owe it to ourselves to give as often as possible!
Helping others can take on many forms. Small repeated boosts of the Happiness Trifecta will produce the most benefit so find ways to give and to give often. Opening a door, helping a stranger change a tire, donating money or time, and giving advice are all wonderful ways to give. Anytime we step outside of ourselves long enough to help someone else, something wonderful is waiting for us when we return: the Happiness Trifecta neurochemicals are all boosted!
Helping others triggers impacts to our brain in many positive ways:
Empathy: There are structures in the brain that are dedicated to helping you see things from the perspectives of others, so these mental processes get some great exercise when you put yourself in the shoes of another person and try to give them what they need.
Mirror Neurons: Helping others is often a highly social activity, which creates a beautiful cycle of smiling. When you smile the whole world smiles with you because you are triggering their mirror neurons. Both the giver and the receiver can directly impact the others brain in a positive way.
The Happiness Trifecta: Helping others triggers a release of oxytocin, which has the effect of boosting your mood and counteracts the effects of cortisol (the dreaded stress hormone). Interestingly, the higher your levels of oxytocin, the more you want to help others. When oxytocin is boosted, so are serotonin and dopamine!
Don’t limit yourself to stock phrases. The next time you check out at the grocery store, try telling the person, “I hope everyone is nice to you today!” You’re almost guaranteed to get a smile. "Great to see you!" and "You did a good job on that project!” cost you nothing, yet everyone gains. Combine the words with a smile and you’ll boost your investment and your return.
So give, give often, and bask in the mental and physical effects of your actions.