We have all heard the saying, “It is better to give than to receive.” Could this really be true? Absolutely! As we enter into the gift-giving season, let’s examine why.
Whether a physical gift or the gift of volunteer time, the act of giving creates an avalanche of chemicals in the brain that result in a “feel good” state of emotion. The act of giving actually lowers blood pressure and stress, and can lead to greater longevity. Research done at the University of California Berkeley showed that people aged 55 and older who volunteered at two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over a five-year period than those who did not volunteer.
The act of giving releases chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, a mood-altering chemical, dopamine, a “feel good” chemical, and the hormone oxytocin, which promotes compassion and emotional bonding. The positive feelings that result from the release of these chemicals in the brain can be addictive and increase future giving. The physical changes related to the release of these “feel good” chemicals include lowering of blood pressure and the decrease of stress, thus resulting in greater happiness and satisfaction. Additional results are increased self-esteem and reduced depression.
Generous people engaged in the act of giving can be powerful role models inspiring others to give. The more members of a society who become generous givers of time and money, the stronger the community bond becomes, thus generating trust and cooperation. A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that one person’s generosity inspires others to be generous, as much as by three degrees, meaning person to person to person. This can lead to the influence of dozens of people in a social network increasing their acts of giving.
Giving creates a sense of gratitude, both for the giver and the recipient. Gratitude is critical for both personal happiness and community bonding. The Research Project in Gratitude and Thankfulness discovered that when people “count their blessings,” it cultivates gratitude leading to optimism and a more positive outlook on life. In personal relationships, when gratitude is expressed by partners and family members, bonds are strengthened.
So, the statement, “It is better to give than to receive” is true in several significant ways. Individuals benefit from increased health and happiness, communities benefit from increased cooperation and trust and everyone involved, both givers and receivers, experience gratitude, an essential ingredient for happiness and social bonding. This time of year, when so many are celebrating deeply spiritual events such as Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanza, we focus on generosity to others, being sure they are well fed, remembered, and cherished. All of this seasonal generosity is fabulous community bonding, the spirit of such should be continued throughout the year. How much stronger our community is if we all worked as individuals to give more!