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.
Oxytocin is among the most ancient of our neurochemicals and has a powerful effect on the brain and the body. When oxytocin begins to flow, blood pressure decreases, bonds increase, social fears are reduced, and trust and empathy are enhanced.
So if giving allows us to secrete this powerful chemical, don’t we owe it to ourselves to give? Anytime we step outside of ourselves long enough to help someone else, something wonderful is waiting for us when we return. We believe donating money, volunteering your time, and spreading positive messages are all wonderful ways to give.
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 other’s 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!
Helping others can take on many forms.
When most people think of giving, they may have too narrow a focus. All giving works wonders, not just making a donation to a cause. How else can you help others? Is there a cause you support? A friend that needs help? A stranger that needs a random act of kindness? You should fill every day with small acts of giving, as this is an effective way to bring happiness to yourself and others. Even just smiling at someone is an act of giving and will brighten both of your days. Starbucks owes its extraordinary success not just to the addictive powers of caffeine, but also to the power of the smile. You can give one away multiple times a day at no cost, and in the process boost your mood and your health.