How Giving can improve us as well as those we give to.
The funny thing about giving is that while it can feel like an “extra” to our very full lives, science and our own experience shows that it has a disproportionate benefit to us and those we give to. Now, more than ever, we are aware of the need to focus on our own mental health and take steps to look after it so benefiting from the science and community knowledge just makes sense.
One of the simplest examples I read recently was about a teacher that asked every student in the school to write their name on a balloon. A large room was then used to keep all the balloons and the children were set loose to find the balloon with their name on it. Of course, it was chaos for some time. Then she blew a whistle and asked all students to pick up a balloon and then find that person and give it to them. Within a few short moments, everyone was reunited with their balloons.
This was a powerful metaphor for happiness, fulfilment and mental health. If we can help each other more by focusing outside of ourselves, it is likely to be much easier to be more resilient and help others to be so too. It becomes a win-win opportunity and opens the door to many ways we can improve and maintain good mental health.
A gratitude mindset is also being studied and research suggests that it does indeed change the body chemistry in how we respond to the world around us. Those who have practiced gratitude actually show greater stimulation in the medial prefrontal cortex – an area of the brain associated with positivity, learning and decision making rather than negativity and guilt based feelings.
Being grateful can be practiced anywhere of course – on a daily routine of taking a walk, spending a few minutes meditating, or even noting down three things we are grateful for that day to name just a few. This can sound like new science but even in ancient times, the Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar and philosopher Cicero mentioned gratitude as the ‘mother’ of all human feelings
On other, less known about way, is by “giving”. Studies have shown that not only does it boost our mental health but it also good for our physical health. You can benefit from lower blood pressure, increased self esteem and lower stress levels. Biologically, giving can give you a warm glow as evidence proves that giving causes the brain to secrete feel good chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin and dopamine the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. Our mood can be enhanced immediately, making us feel happy from within.
By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help strengthen these neural pathways and help create a more permanent habit and feeling of gratitude and positive disposition within ourselves.
The science even suggests that gratitude helps us sleep better. Studies have shown that receiving and displaying simple acts of kindness activates the hypothalamus which itself regulates a huge range of bodily mechanisms controlled with sleep being an essential one.
Hypothalamic regulation triggered by gratitude can help us achieve deeper and healthier sleep naturally. A mind filled with gratitude and kindness is far more likely to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the next day.
It is not just physical giving (of gifts or money) that causes these positive outcomes but also volunteering or donating some of your time. Regions in the brain associated with pleasure and trust are activated by “giving” making you feel good.
TheGivingMachine was born out of a desire to help good causes and give their supporters a way to give to them for free via our Shop&Give shopping platform. It converts commission from online shopping into free donations. Since it’s launch over 3 million free donations have been raised in that way, that’s over 3 million times that someone has felt good and we think that is a really positive outcome (along with the almost £2 million pounds which has been raised along the way).
Over time we have introduced a number of other ways people can give to their chosen cause. Our GivingLottery lets you support a good cause, whilst being in with a chance of winning £25,000. Our GivingVouchers let you give the gift of giving. Perfect for birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions. The recipient donates the voucher value to any cause on our website. And our Donate Now feature lets you give directly to the cause you care about.
Giving really does feel good!