This time of year, it is easy to get caught up in all the hype about finding the perfect gift for that special someone or making your kids happy with the latest toy. You know that feeling you get when you pick out the perfect gift for someone? You imagine the look on their face when they open it and are just so excited to give it to them that you don’t even care what you get. Did you know there is a term for that feeling when giving makes you happy? It’s called the helper’s high and researchers have been conducting studies on it for years.
This helper’s high is caused by a release of pleasure chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. In other words, giving releases your body’s own, natural, feel-good drug. This reaction was discovered by a team of researchers at The National Institutes of Health when they scanned the brains of people who regularly give to charity using an MRI machine. They have proven that not only is the helper’s high a real thing, but because it releases pleasure hormones in your brain, it is also addictive; much like a runner’s high.
In fact, giving is so good for you that researches at the University of California Berkley showed in a five-year study that people aged 55 and over who give back to others are 44 percent more likely to live longer than those who don’t, regardless of risk factors to health. A similar five-year study at the University of Michigan found that people over 55 who provide no emotional support to friends or family are twice as likely to die than those who do. Even Harvard did a study in 2008 that found giving money to someone else lifted the giver’s spirits more than spending it on themselves. This included those participants who were skeptical in the beginning about their feelings of giving money away. Every single participant found that their mood improved after a charitable donation. Similar scholarly studies conducted on the positive effects of giving on a person’s health have shown results like: lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, fewer instances of depression, lower stress levels, and greater happiness.
This concept is not new. Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu wrote “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
You may be saying to yourself “I give all the time and I don’t feel happy because I never get anything back.” Scholars and philosophers would say that this is where you are making a mistake. Selfless giving, that is, giving something away without an expectation of return, is the purest form of happiness. You will see it all over phrased in many different ways; what you put out to the universe will return to you ten-fold. Apparently, this is how the helper’s high works; giving without expectation of return reaps multiple rewards. It’s the pay it forward effect. When you give without intentions of receiving anything in return, you are actually more likely to receive things in return. Giving also strengthens the human connection. Exchanging gifts, kind words, or even a smile promotes a sense of trust that strengthens our bond to other people. This is why we tend to encourage our children to share with their friends.
The act of giving doesn’t mean you have to drain yourself or even put forward tons of effort to find the perfect item in a shopping mall. A gift can be as simple as a smile, a kind word, or even a gesture of support towards those you care about. The point is to make an effort, however small, to make the world a kinder and better place. Strengthen your human connection. By doing so, you just might find that you feel even better than the person receiving that gift.