The Giving Back Effect
HOW HELPING OTHERS CAN SPARK LASTING HAPPINESS
Beyond an ancient Chinese proverb, there’s anecdotal and scientific evidence proving how acts of kindness have a powerful effect on your happiness. And happiness is a crucial part of living a healthful life. The end goal of health—of eating well, moving daily, sleeping sufficiently, quieting the mind—is not to simply feel healthy. It's not wellness for the sake of wellness. It's about feeling empowered to share your light. This is your magnetism. And the more you nurture your light, the more you have to share with others.
The end goal is to have a cup so full that it overflows...giving to the people and world around you.
This advantage goes beyond a warmed heart or sense of contentment. The giving back effect is tied to reduced stress, better sleep, and overall happiness in your own life.
So, what’s the connection?
A neurological study published in Nature Communications showed that acts of generosity actually changed activity in the brain in ways that increased happiness. Brain scans showed improved activity in a part of the brain that is wired to be empathetic and giving. The same part is actively communicating with the brain’s reward center (or the ventral striatum). This is the region that responds to levels of desire and satisfaction. It makes sense. While a great meal or really satisfying sex skews on the hedonistic side, the act of giving back actually lights up the same feelings in the brain.
How Giving Nurtures Ourselves
We know the power of nurturing ourselves to a more radiant, healthy life but giving acts can be powerful tools as well, affecting our overall happiness, stress levels, sleep patterns and more. Giving ultimately has greater brain benefits than receiving.
Here’s five ways science backs up giving back:
When we share ourselves, our body responds instantly
At a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that people who gave their time or money to charity had lower blood pressure. (Interestingly, blood pressure levels did not change when they spent money on themselves.)
We are naturally inclined to like giving more than receiving
In another study, volunteers who performed massages on others had less anxiety, depression and had significantly lower “stress” hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Researchers found the volunteers enjoyed the stress-lowering effects of giving the massages more than receiving them.
Simple acts of giving can add to a sense of purpose
Better sleep, something everyone wants and needs, can be improved if you feel a sense of higher purpose. Researchers at Northwestern University School of Medicine found that subjects who felt their lives had more meaning were 63 percent less likely to have sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to have restless leg syndrome, two factors that affect overall sleep quality.
Giving and happiness are internally integrated
A Harvard Business School paper backed by numerous studies found not only a strong link between giving and happiness but also how they feed each other in a circular relationship. The study demonstrated that happier people give more and that giving causes increased happiness. This loving loop not only feeds ourselves but can have a ripple effect.
Giving sparks more giving
As reported in 2015, a student named Josh Yandt in Ontario, who had been formally bullied, started to hold the door open for classmates at his new school. Initially shocked, this tiny act had a huge impact on Yandt and entire student body. The gesture made people feel safe and open to each other. In a few months, the teachers and administration saw other students take part in random acts of kindness.
How to Share Your Light
Being in service to others doesn’t have to mean living a Mother Theresa-esque life or overcommitting yourself so you feel overstretched or taken advantage of. Research backs up that even the smallest acts have a huge impact. If you are ready to share your light, consider giving of yourself in these ways...
Make time for a friend
Reach out to someone going through a hard time
Hold a door open for someone
Compliment a total stranger
Stand up for an important cause
Foster a dog or a child
Give someone a really long hug
These may seem insignificant, random acts but can ultimately have a powerful effect on both yourself and the recipient of the love. The inner light you work so hard to nurture is abundant and actually grows more when you are sharing it with those around you.